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Dear Writer: How to Stay in Touch with Your Character

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A while ago, Renee Roberson asked me how I keep track of the many projects I have going. What system do I use? In all truth, I just make a leap of faith and go for it, believing that each story will still be there when I come back to it.

That said, it isn’t always an easy thing to do when I haven’t visited a particular story for a week or more. With a longer absence, I sometimes have problems re-entering my character’s point of view and the larger story. When this happens, I invite my character to write me a letter.

If you know me, you may be wondering who is writing this blog post. Sounds a bit corny for me, doesn’t it? And yet this technique almost always works. Through it, I have discovered:

What my character really wants. We all know that we need to reveal our character’s motivations and deepest desires. What is it your character wants? Yet, in a story that just isn’t quite working, these wants and desires are often cookie cutter and superficial. “My character likes long walks on the beach and dreams of world peace.” But when I give my character a chance to speak to me through a personal letter, I discover that she’s worried about being a failure and letting her best friend down. Wait a minute – I didn’t even know her friend had a vested interest in the project. But that’s because I hadn’t dug deeply enough into . . .

What’s going on behind the scenes. I’m a linear thinker. A leads to B which leads to C and so on. Yes, I know that X, Y and Z are in there somewhere. But my linear mind sometimes shrugs off these extras even when it is exactly these layers of detail that make a story, especially something novel length, feel three dimensional and real. My poor linear brain needs the occasional reminder that these details matter.

My character’s own unique voice. It is much easier to discover and reenter my character’s voice when I invite her to write me a letter. These are, after all, her words and ideas. She is presenting what is important to her. The things that matter to me are much less important, but as my character speaks, pet phrases, her own personal word choice and syntax emerge.

If you are having problems re-entering your story after a lengthy absence, you’ve written yourself into a corner or your character feels flat and one-dimensional, invite her to share her thoughts about the story with you. Granted, she may have some harsh words if you’ve left her in a tough spot for a long period of time. But what she has to say will give you new insights and ideas for carrying your story forward.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards’ writing, visit her blog, One Writer’s Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins July 22nd, 2019.

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