I’ve been dreaming about my characters lately. My subconscious has been putting them in all sorts of strange situations, and they’ve been forced onto the back foot and had to find a way out of them. The scenes generally have nothing to do with my novel, but they are interesting in their own right.
What this is doing, of course, is cementing certain characteristics and traits in my mind about these people I have created. By putting them through things that would never come up in the course of the narrative, I am learning a lot about them and they’re evolving at a rate of knots. Of course, they were pretty well fleshed out before – my earlier post about not knowing them well enough is now well and truly irrelevant – but now they’ve got a depth they were previously lacking.
I have to admit, I didn’t even realise they were lacking until this past week, but now I know better. It’s amazing what having someone dangling off a cliff, hanging onto a fragile root system for their very survival, is doing for their character. Or how someone else tries to save them. Really, it’s a fascinating process.
In this case I have my subconscious to thank. I’ve seen writing exercises where you put your characters in strange situations and see how they respond, but I’ve never really done one of those. (Yes, I know, I’m sadly lacking in this sort of thing.) In previous stories I’ve written I’ve known my characters so well that I was barely writing them, but instead putting them in a scene and then stage-managing and watching what they did of their own accord. I wasn’t quite at that level with these characters – nearly, but not quite. Now I am.
As such, I have in my own way learned the benefits of doing this sort of writing exercise. Sure, I wasn’t writing, but dreams are still your creativity at work and I was getting my characters well out of their comfort zones, even more than the novel requires. And of course I benefited enormously.
This has got me thinking. If this is so useful, then what other writing exercises should I be doing in order to get this manuscript as good as it can possibly be? My general tactic is to write the scenes from several different points of view, to make sure I get each person’s motivations and reactions right, but this is the first time I’ve tackled things that weren’t directly related to the story I’m telling. And it was brilliant.
So now I’m asking you: What tips and tricks do you use to get your story right? What writing exercises work for you? Because if we all share our techniques and try new things, then we’ll all become better writers.