I’m currently in the process of going through everything I own (for reasons). The first things I tackled this morning were the three boxes I’ve been keeping in the back of my closet for the past seven or so years, all filed with cards and other memories from high school through college.
I am surprised at how many handwritten notes I found tucked away in there – for a number of reasons.
For the record, I graduated in 2014 – so it’s not like using paper and pen to write notes to each other was still an everyday necessity. But I’m glad so many of my friends gave me notes, and even more grateful that I kept them all – handwritten things mean so much more to me than anything digital.
It’s so easy to delete emails and text messages and forget about Facebook posts. I couldn’t throw away something handwritten from someone who matters to me if I tried.
It’s the handwriting itself, I think. Everyone’s handwriting is unique. On a screen, everything looks the same. On paper, it’s all different.
All this (of course) got me thinking. What if one of your characters wrote you a note? What would it say? What would you write back, if you could?
Because your characters aren’t just words on a page, you know. To you, they’re people. They have stories. Things happen to them that leave a deep impact on their souls. What if they just want to take a moment to thank you? Or yell at you for being mean? Or both?
Sometimes we forget that in order to write believable fiction, we have to tell stories as if we are recounting the events of a real person’s life. An audience cannot relate to a character who is just another story element being dragged across a sea of pages. They relate to people like them – people who grow and change and make mistakes and, sometimes, succeed.
Treating your characters like friends, like real people – it works. Every time I start to lose interest in a story, I have to take a step back and think about the characters I would be letting down if I gave up on them too soon. I care about them – sure, they’re not technically real, but they are products of my creativity – those things can and should be extremely important to you. That is how you stick with stories even when you’ve hit a creative dry spell (or so it seems).
And if you’re really stuck, and still want to spend time with a story without actually writing anything, go back to creative writing class – figuratively. Sit down and physically write a note in your character’s voice, as if they’re sending you an informal memo about their concerns regarding your story. (I have a little too much fun imagining my characters filing complaints when I throw in a not-so-nice plot twist.)
Does it get you any closer to finishing your novel? Maybe not technically. But it’s better than bowing to your excuses and not writing anything at all “because you don’t feel like it.”
I’ve now fit all of my friends’ notes from college into one little box that I can easily take with me wherever I go. They remind me that the past is not something to avoid – it’s OK to remember the good things that have happened to you, and the people who loved you despite everything. It’s a major writing motivator for me. Because all characters have pasts that shape their futures, and as a writer, I’m (mostly) in control of where my characters end up – whether they like it or not. I’m in full control of where they have been, and how it has changed them.
Change is good. We have characters – real and fictional – to constantly remind us of that. How lucky are we?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.