You’re writing a novel and it’s going well. Your characters are solid, enfleshed, more real to you than yourself on many days. And this is great, because writing is easier when you’re like that celery stalk in third grade – the one stuck in a beaker of blue ink for lessons in osmosis. Story runs through your veins, into all extremities. If sliced open, what seeps from you would contain characters, setting, and theme.
Then Life happens. You have a family crisis, a case of the nerves, get sucked under by a work tsunami. Whatever the cause, on the day you return to the page you cannot connect with your fictional world.
This was me some time ago. I’d reread my book and background materials. Despite intellectual understanding of my characters’ motivations and conflicts, I couldn’t enter their emotional space. As a consequence, the tone was off in everything I wrote. (Imagine channeling Jerry Lewis in a moment of tender reunion.) That made for countless false starts and mounting concern when silent days turned into silent months.
When I canvassed writing friends for solutions, the news wasn’t encouraging. Virtually all had manuscript graveyards with 50,000-plus-word corpses. Almost none had been able to resuscitate a novel once it fell silent.
Fortunately, though it took a while, I found my way back into that book. In case there are a few of you who might benefit, here are a few ways you might reconnect emotionally with your work.
A few points first:
- Try to set aside a good chunk of time. You’ll reread your manuscript, your background material, immerse yourself in your story’s world. If there’s any way to carve out a few days of solitude, this is the time to make it happen.
- While some people use these measures before writing a word, they can help at any point in a book’s creation.
- You’re after cues that trigger a particular emotional response or connection to the fictional world. Once you have them, don’t be surprised when Pavlovian conditioning sets in and you can swiftly transition from a real-world tickle fight to a poignant, fictional scene.
- I’ve divided them according to preferred learning style on the hunch that you’ll be consistent in how you store and retrieve information, but don’t get hung up on rigid classes. People can use more than one modality.
Not sure which kind of learning style you prefer? Examine your Twitter, Facebook or blog conversations for these patterns:
- If you’re a visual learner, you’ll tend to say things like, “I don’t see it that way.”
- Auditory learners will say, “That’s not what I heard in that conversation.”
- Kinaesthetic / tactile/ whole-body learners? “I don’t feel you made your point adequately.” (If you tend to connect with my blog posts, I’m solidly kinaesthetic.)
- A folder of images might be all you need, whether stored in your computer, on a corkboard, or within a scrapbook. Look for character avatars, images of your setting, or pictures that evoke mood.
- I like photo sites with good metadata. I search under keywords related to theme, mood, or emotion. For example, check out the variety of images that come up on istockphoto.com under the search term “surprise.” (Notice they also provide video and audio files.)
- Do you have a symbol or motif in your novel? Consider using it to mock-up cover art or a movie poster.
- These days, many writers are turning to Pinterest for both inspiration and promotion. Here are three useful articles about that site:
Of Pinterest and Visionboards by Justine Musk
Pin This by Liz Michalski
3 Ways to Use Pinterest for Book Publicity by Crystal Patriarche here on WU
- If you’re visual and kinaesthetic, try using three-dimensional visual cues. For instance, within collages, you can demonstrate relationship or conflict when one character’s image dominates through size or position. Use textured paper. Or use shadow boxes and incorporate physical objects right into the collage.
- Here are three posts, all on Jennifer Crusie’s Argh Ink, which explore collage use. Note the third for its use of the three dimensions:
- Maybe you haven’t settled on your character’s appearance. Do you know how she sounds in a particular mood? Can you find an audio clip of an actor nailing her attitude?
- Find a song or instrumental piece that evokes the mood you’re after. If you can’t write with music playing in the background, try going for a long walk while playing your sound track. There’s something about rhythmic use of large muscles which lowers resistance and promotes mood induction.
- Have a plot problem? Talk it through with a friend or with yourself.
- Write a character interview and have a friend read the questions aloud. Answer verbally.
Kinesthetic / Whole Body Learners
- I was only half-joking about the Fire-in-Fiction votive candles in last month’s post on Promopalooza. Scent is a powerful way to reconnect to emotion.
- Any kind of hands-on activity can help, including doing the manual version of all the above techniques. For example, draw time lines rather than use computer software, write your pages in longhand, or plot with recipe cards on a cork board.
- Role play scenes, conduct research through field trips and action. Do your characters cook, conduct sword play, or run? As much as humanly possible, inhabit their bodies and become aware of visceral sensation. (In my case, I found my protagonist’s voice by tromping up and down the streets of an alpine town, mimicking her gait in every kind of mood. Did I startle a few natives? Probably. Do I care? I’m absolutely thrilled.)
Other Helpful Resources
- Want to know how your learning style affects choice of office décor? Jeanne Adams tackled this in a fascinating post on Romance University – a wonderful writing resource in its own right.
- Check out Brandilyn Collins’s Getting Into Character: Seven Secret a Novelist Can Learn from Actors – particularly Secret #7.
How about you, peeps? Have you rescued characters who’ve gone mute? Know of any other techniques to cue emotional memory and dive into one’s fictive world? Please contribute to my repertoire.
“I’m not dead yet” courtesy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail