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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hey, Author: Get out of my head!

I've pointed out previously that some of us are authors of plot-driven fiction, while others focus on character-driven stories. I typically follow into the latter of these camps, and one of my biggest struggles is to get out of my character's head.

I believe that this is an issue a lot of greener authors struggle with -- and the last thing any of us wants is to Stephenie Meyer it. Yes, that is a verb.

Stephenie Meyer
stɛf-ɛni ma-yər/
  1. 1.
    to move a story along by throwing a car at your main character.
    "That story was going nowhere fast until they Stephenie Meyer'd it."
    synonyms: cop out

I mean, yes, I entirely plan on being a billionaire author someday (and then JK and I can finally be besties as I've always dreamed) but I want to get there a better way. I mean, Ms. Meyer is only a hundred-millionaire, after all.*

So, after all the hard work I've put into figuring out how to get out of my MC's head and into the story, I have graciously decided to share with you a bit of what I've learned. That is very gracious of me, isn't it? You're welcome.

Alright then. How DO you get out of your character's head enough to move a plot along?

Do not be overly attached to your writing.
You must be prepared to delete-delete-delete. When you're up in your MC's head, there are a lot of words and thoughts floating around, and the temptation to put them all to paper. You can give in to the temptation on the first draft, but when it comes to editing you're going to need to be prepared to prune. The easiest way to get out of your character's head is to cut out all the thinking.

Okay, you've deleted all that extraneous thinking. Now what?

Well, if you're anything like me if you actually deleted all of it you're now about 10,000+ words lighter. No big deal. Now it's time to:

Fill in the physical world.

In your MC's head, everything is abstract. It's thought and ideas and emotion and reaction. It leaves the physical world a little sparse. Flesh out that world, and give your novel some presence. How does it look and feel? How do people look and feel? What are the sensations of the world?

Once your world takes physical shape, you'll find that there are actual things for your MC to interact with.

Something should happen to your MC.
Or your MC should happen to something. Meaning, you don't need to throw a car at your MC, but you should acknowledge that even when we're just minding our own business and walking home from work we're constantly interacting with the world. We're stopping at lights as ambulances pass, grumbling about the slow-walking tourists spread out across the entire sidewalk, running as it starts to rain. We go home and cook dinner, or go to the gym, or play with our kitten. We don't live only in our heads, and neither should your MC. The physical world is real, and your MC should be able to touch it.

And when your MC touches it** then you should really tell us all about it.

Don't be afraid to get earthy.
Go ahead and tell us when things are gross, visceral, pungent, etc. We've all been there.

*If this inspired you to go write the next Twilight, more power to you. I will not take any of the blame.

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