Writing 101: Last night’s class

Last night featured my two hour long on-line writing course. It is comprised of five people total: the teacher, a published mystery writer, a technical writer who has spent his career writing manuals, and an older woman who’s husband said she writes well, and me. Where do I fit in all of this? Excellent question.

In between the hours I now spend getting ready for the upcoming school year, I write. I have written my entire life. Despite the fact that I now spend my days teaching students to write and my undergraduate degree is in writing, I have never formally been taught how to write. Words have always just been there, working within me, around me, and I have always felt the need to write them down. Sometimes it feels like words are floating just a little ways above my head (like Mercutio for those of you who know Shakespeare) waiting for me to catch them and commit them to the page.

Much of my day consists of my mental narration of the events around me: the description of a wilted flower petal, the way my son smiled with chocolate smeared on his top lip, the auspicious way my BF predicts what will happen next in his soccer game. I have not planned or plotted or organized my writing in any real way, but I am beginning to learn that this in fact helps.

Last night our teacher gave us an exercise.

“Choose a character you’ve created and list all of the things that character would complain about. Try and do it in the character’s voice, if you can,” she announced before giving us a fifteen minute break to work independently.

I had no problem choosing a recent character from one of my fiction pieces. She’s a teenage Empath, who can feel other people’s emotions, but this is not all. Her reason for being on Earth is to save it from darkness, but she cannot do this through violence. She must achieve the path to Enlightenment to be able to prevail, but what will she do when darkness takes on the likeness of a teenage boy? It’s a YA novel for sure as well as a female version of the hero’s journey.

As much as I have carved out my narrative and written multiple pages of the story, I never thought about what her complaints might be.

I sat at my desk for five minutes, blank and unnerved. Complaints? The character I wrote suddenly felt like a cardboard cutout. She really had no depth. My multiple pages of plot development did little to carve her out, but I didn’t realize this until I gave her very real criteria. The thought of her having the level of thought and emotion she needs to be unhappy and non-compliant suddenly pushed me into a very different realm. I also needed to take her perspective from 3rd person to 1st.

Her complaints:

“I am so unhappy that I am forced to save this world. I just want to be normal.”

“I hate feeling what other people feel. It makes me so aware of others and I just want to be left alone.”

“Why me?”

“Why can’t I just be worried about normal things like the prom and getting into a good college?”

“It feels terrible to know that people were talking about me and making plans for me that I didn’t know about.”

When I finished this exercise, I went back to my story with new eyes. I reread one section of the novel and made multiple additions to help flesh out my main character. My other characters started to feel a bit flat in the process, but I enjoyed the dimensions she was starting to take.

The exercise really helped me to feel like writing is so much more than just a single process. I think I have grown too used to my first or second drafts, to content with single plot threads and underdeveloped characters.

Either way, focusing on my writing in general feels very therapeutic. Continuing this blog helps as well, so thank you so much for reading.

Wishing you love, light, and to keep writing!!!