Why You Don’t Need to Know Everything About Your Characters (Yet)

TJ Scott Silhouette Photography
TJ Scott Silhouette Photography

I have been creating stories basically my whole life. I say “creating” because, before I really knew how to write down the stories in my head, I did what any other kid my age would do: I made them up by acting them out. Barbies, Beanie Babies, dress-up: I have all these things to thank for getting me through the early years, until I knew enough about language and forming words to start writing those ideas down and saving them for later.

Yet still, after all this time, I’m amazed at how the same brain somehow manages to come up with different stories that are complete opposites of each other, in every way possible.

I have had the idea for my current novel in my head for awhile, and had to wait until this month to begin allowing it to play out on paper, because I was working on finishing up another story. I didn’t realize before embarking on this new literary journey how much I would end up depending on character development and dialogue to move the story along.

My last book was a YA sci-fi/adventure story, which meant it relied heavily on critical events and the surrounding environment as elements to give the story sustenance. I liked that change, because I usually write in the contemporary YA genre and hadn’t had to think quite so much about imaginary places and mechanisms of the future before.

It was a nice change. But it happened, it’s behind me, and honestly, I’m glad to be back writing in a genre I’m more comfortable in. It’s not that I don’t believe writers need to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. I just, I guess, write a lot better in the genre I got my start under in the first place.

For some reason, though, I’m having quite a time adjusting to writing such a character-based story again. It takes place in a small town, both the alternating narrators are teenagers and they and everyone they know end up crossing paths with each other at different points as the story moves along. So basically, it’s my life seven years ago, except much more dramatic and none of the characters are based on me or my life (not exactly).

So why is it so hard to adjust? There are a few key events that the story keeps leading up to: a school play being the major one. But while there’s commentary from both narrators throughout and a few hints to some back story here and there, most of it is just talking. Sitting at lunch, talking. At a pizza place or coffee shop, talking. At first this worried me. Is it boring? Is this even exciting enough to keep me entertained? But somehow it is. Because somehow, all these characters have appeared that even I don’t know enough about, and with the conclusion of every scene, I want to know more about them.

Does that mean the reader would, theoretically, feel the same way? And, more importantly, does it mean I’m somehow doing this gradual character development thing right for once?

As much as I’m all for planning and outlining, I don’t really like the idea of detailed character sketches (writing out traits and facts about the characters in your stories). I think it’s important to know their general personality and how they might typically respond to certain events, but I don’t think it’s necessary to know every single detail about them.

I think, if you don’t know your characters as well as you want to, in a way, that’s a good thing. Building a story and creating characters is sort of like building a relationship with people who don’t exist. The longer you spend with them, the further you get into your story, the more they will reveal pieces of themselves to you. You might use all those pieces and you might not. It’s a journey.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy learning things about my characters as I go along. It makes me feel more connected, and it’s quite possible that if I can convey that ever-growing connection as I’m writing, my readers will sense that, and feel as though they’re making new friends, too.

Not that I ever expect anyone to read my stories. But it could happen.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of TJ Scott.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Solution Saturday: My Characters Have Taken Over (HELP)

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Starting to plan out a new novel is sort of like sitting down to plan a vacation. By the time you’re on your way to the airport (by the time you start writing), you’re convinced you have everything figured out. You know exactly when that plane’s going to take off and where it’s going to land. You know how you’re getting to your hotel and the first thing you’re going to do when you check in.

Everything’s all planned out, all the way through the moment you arrive back home.

Then you end up taking a detour on the way to the airport. Your flight’s delayed. It’s raining. The plane has to make an unexpected landing. You end up stranded on an island with only a volleyball as a friend and it all goes downhill from there.

Wait, what?

Let’s be real. Your novel never turns out the way you thought it would. Your characters are to blame, and there are only a few things you can do to cope.

“Sketch” them out

We’re talking writing here, not drawing, but if you want to try that too, go for it. If you’re starting to figure out your characters know more than you do – which is much more likely than most of us are willing to believe – take some time to “get to know” them. Free write about their strengths, weaknesses, childhood events, etc. (Not recommended during WriMos.) You’ll be surprised at how much truth comes out during this exercise. The best part is, you’ll probably be able to use most of it, even if you don’t end up pointing everything out to the reader directly.

You’re in on the secrets now. Mostly. It’s a good place to be, but don’t get too comfortable.

Trust no one

Your characters will turn on you and they will turn on each other. This is great for your story but not so safe for your sanity. Do you ever wonder how T.V. writers come up with all those great twists? THEY DON’T. Somehow, they just happen. The only explanation is that our characters are in more control of the plot than they’d like us to believe.

So expect the unexpected. Know that if you’re in the middle of writing a scene and all of a sudden someone is dead, it’s not your fault. All you can do is move forward.

Just go with it

The truth is, we can make all the plans and do as much outlining as we want (or not). But somehow, when we create a cast of characters, we’re signing an unwritten agreement. These characters develop minds of their own, and pretty quickly, they somehow manage to figure out better ways to tell their stories than you could have ever come up with on your own.

Sometimes you just have to sit back, take a deep breath and let your characters take you where they want to go. Don’t fight it. In the end, it really is better for your story, even if it’s the exact opposite of what you thought it would be.

Don’t be afraid. You are in good hands. Hopefully.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Dear John: Stories Aren’t Just for Readers

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Storytelling is as complicated as it is simple. It’s very difficult, as a writer, to describe the writing process to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. Why? Because just as often as you have to think about your purpose for sitting down and writing a story, you must consider who you are sitting down and writing a story for – someone that is not you.

Complicating the matter even further is knowing that every story you write will mean something different to every person who reads it, no matter your intention for writing it in the first place.

We all write for different reasons, but something all writers have in common is the fact that writing stories is a powerful tool, and that is why we work so hard to refine our craft and learn how to tell the best stories we can, and how to tell them well.

Every story sends a message. Not just to the person reading it, but to the person writing it.

At NerdCon: Stories 2015, John Green spoke about stories and why they matter. Speaking from the viewpoint of a writer, he explained why he tells stories, and how they can be used to, in a sense, mentally, temporarily teleport from the real world to a world we create for ourselves. Stories are a way to escape our bodies and our minds and find comfort, at least for a little while, in the fiction we are attempting to bring to life through our love-hate relationship with words.

As often as we try to focus on who we are writing for – because, in the end, our readers are in a sense our customers, and their emotions and opinions do matter – John reminds us here that writing a story doesn’t start out that way. It all starts with us, and why we are writing the story we are writing. How that story resonates with other people comes later. Sometimes much, much later in the process.

Some of us start writing stories loosely based on things that have happened to us. Maybe we went through something when we were younger, or maybe it was recently, and we don’t know how else to come to terms with it and move on from it. It’s the same idea if you see someone else going through something and need to come to a better understanding of it yourself.

Maybe someone has seriously wronged you, and you want to use a story to try and see things from their point of view, in an attempt to understand why you have been targeted and hurt.

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you feel you have a lot of important things to say, but nobody is listening, and a story is the only way you can seem to get your ideas out on paper.

Before the reader comes the writer, and when a story is born, the writer’s relationship with that story is the only relationship that matters. You have to use stories for your own benefit before they can be of any use to anyone else.

It’s okay to worry about what your readers might think. After you’re able to process what you needed to process while constructing your thoughts.

Here is John’s short monologue from NerdCon: Stories a few weeks ago.

Let’s take a step away from the reader today, and focus on us – the writers. Not everyone will love your story. That’s not what matters. What matters is that you’re writing something that is meaningful to you, and that is the only way for anyone else to gather meaning from it for themselves.

Image courtesy of youtube.com.

Solution Saturday: Why Is Writing the Middle Always the Hardest Part?

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Though it might seem a little backwards, writing the end of a story is a lot easier than writing the beginning. And writing the beginning is even easier than figuring out what comes between a story’s beginning and ending. Why? Because the writer always seems to know the end result, but often struggles to figure out how to get their characters there.

You probably have a decent beginning and a really kick-butt ending to the story you’re working on right now, but it might be that the middle of your story just isn’t coming together the same way. It happens to a lot of writers, and we know it’s not only frustrating, but discouraging.

Here are some solutions to help you conquer your middle and finish that story.

Solution 1: Outline your major plot points 

You might not want to spend any of your writing time on outlines, but the bigger a story gets, the easier it is to get lost. Sometimes it really does help to see it all laid out in one place. An outline doesn’t have to be anything fancy: just sketch the main points, like you would if you were writing a paper or drafting a proposal (but it’s more fun, right?).

Once you have your main ideas in front of you, you can start to break them down into smaller points and try to figure out not only where you’re stuck, but how you’re going to move past it and fill in the gaps. The answers you’ve been searching for may have been there all along; you just couldn’t see them before. 

Solution 2: Start at the end and work backwards 

You know how the story ends, usually, or you at least know where you’re going to leave your characters and storyline, whether you’ve come up with a killer cliffhanger (if applicable) or not. Ideally, you know how it all starts and how it all ends. So all you really need to do is work backwards.

If you’re stuck in the middle of your story, you don’t just have all of the beginning and all of the end written: you probably have pieces of the middle, too, they just haven’t come together yet. Start from “the beginning of your end” and see if you can backtrack to figure out, one by one, the events that lead up to the story’s climax. 

Solution 3: Keep the story moving

You might have hit a midpoint and started to feel stuck because your characters are wandering around a figurative forest. Let’s think Harry Potter for a second. How much of Deathly Hallows did they spend, literally, in a forest? But it wasn’t boring, though, was it? Because regardless of moving from clearing to clearing, they were always finding answers, asking more questions and hiding.

As best as you can, pack the middle of your story with action. Always keep your characters in motion. Are they working toward achieving a goal and have to overcome smaller obstacles along the way to get there? Are there big questions that branch off into smaller questions that can be answered as the story moves along? Everything leads up to the climax in a small but equally important way.

Middles are tough, and they might end up being the last part of a story you actually write. But it’s like taking something apart, laying all the pieces in front of you and trying to figure out how to put it all back together again. Once you have that ah-ha moment, you’re on your way to the finish line with no problems at all.

Well. Sort of.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

The Tense You Use In Your Story Is Actually Kind of Important

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It’s not something we tend to think about in too much detail. Either a writer tells a story in the present or the past tense. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced the anguish of working on multiple projects at once, trying to switch between the two tenses and failing miserably every time.

If we do think about it a little deeper, tense becomes less of a random choice and much more of a significant part of whatever story we’re trying to tell. Have you ever noticed? Let’s take a minute to notice.

Past tense sets the narrator and reader up to reflect on obstacles the characters have already overcome

It’s devastating, both as the reader and the writer, to see even fictional people go through tough times. But the only reason characters have to suffer through the majority of every story is the same reason real life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns: there’s always something to learn from overcoming even the worst obstacles.

Knowing a narrator is telling a story after the fact (‘I remember when … I’ll never forget how … to this day I …”) can serve as a constant reminder that the tragedies they’re facing throughout the book don’t last forever. There is a somewhat happy ending. Reflecting on the past means the narrator is far enough away from it all to be able to process it. That’s a good thing!

Present tense sets the narrator and reader up to grow and conquer obstacles together

While stories told in the past tense are all about looking back, present tense narratives (regardless of the POV) are all about growth and change in the moment. Here, the reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, but neither does the narrator. There’s no “I’ll never forget” because the future is unknown on both sides. It’s kind of cool, in a nerdish kind of way.

Telling a story this way might actually help a reader connect with a character in a completely different way. In the present, you’re putting your narrator and reader on the same path at the same speed. Unless you have multiple POVs, it’s less likely your reader knows something your narrator doesn’t. It’s like unraveling a series of secrets between two friends. It’s a special bond (er … until the book ends).

Whichever tense you choose, there’s opportunity for both you and your potential readers to make connections with the characters and their fictitious lives in different ways.

As long as your choice makes sense with your overall storyline—if you’re writing in the present, for example, you’ll have to be a bit more sneaky with your foreshadowing [upcoming post alert]—it’s just another fun device to play with when constructing your stories.

See? Writing IS fun. Most of the time. 

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Getting Lost In Our Stories is What Brings Them to Life

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I’ve just always been a storyteller. Storybooks and fairytales were never quite enough to satisfy my sense of adventure and curiosity when I was younger. So like many children do, at some point I just started making up my own stories.

Imagination has no limits. I could think up any series of events I wanted, and it was so real to me, almost like it was really happening.

Then, probably through all those essays we had to learn to write in middle school, I discovered that like playing with my Barbie dolls or Beanie Babies, like drawing pictures, I could take the stories circling around in my head and bring them to life, through putting words onto a page.

When you’re so young, and you’re just starting to figure out how to piece together a story with a plot, characters, and some kind of beginning, middle and end, it doesn’t matter that you’re not writing very well. No 10-year-old is going to write a story without making mistakes, leaving plot holes, sometimes maybe not even really including a plot at all.

So when I say I’ve been telling stories for forever, I’m not at all implying I’ve always been good at it (or even that I can be good at it now). Refining writing skills literally takes years. I just never gave up, and kept writing even though I knew I wasn’t the best, kept writing, even though I knew my parents and teachers were probably just being polite with their compliments.

Kept writing, even though deep down I knew I might never be good enough.

Then one day, some day, I learned how to get lost.

Not lost in the grocery store (thank God) or lost in a crowd, but lost in a story. So drawn into what you’re writing in the present that it pulls you right out of where you’re sitting and you find yourself in a completely different time and place.

It doesn’t happen every time you sit down to write. Sometimes you do have to sit back and really think about what you’re doing, where you’re going with this, whether or not you need to keep that.

But every once in a while, when you start an ongoing chain of dialogue or there’s an intense scene ahead of you, something happens. You almost watch the events as they begin to play out on the page. You can almost here the characters speak their “lines” in your head. You are there, in that moment. You are in two places at once: at the control booth of the story, and part of it, simultaneously.

It’s hard to come back. But when that scene ends, or someone or something interrupts, you always do. I don’t know about you, but I very rarely want to. I don’t write to escape, but every now and again, it’s a nice perk, isn’t it?

No, when I’m writing a funeral scene, I don’t wish I was there. When I’m writing about grief, I don’t wish it upon myself, too—but you get swept up in what’s happening, before you even realize. So whether happy or sad, intense or gradually building up to it, you’re committed to getting pulled into everything, without warning.

But when we get lost like that, something else happens: we stop second-guessing ourselves. It’s easier to see what’s the most realistic thing that will happen next. It’s easier to engage in a stream of consciousness so deep that even if we consider for a second whether it was a good idea for Character X to say that, it’s already gone, and we just let it be.

That’s how you know you’re okay. That you’re not going to hit a wall anytime soon. That your story is there, somewhere deep inside you, it just has to come out in pieces. It takes a little writing, a little resting, and then some more writing (and repeat).

Is it always the best work we can do? No. Maybe it never is.

But in those moments we let the ideas run the show, that’s when it comes to life for real.

And I would not give that up for anything. Ever.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Flickr.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

It’s Okay to Write and Cry

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Some of you are probably going to judge me for admitting this, but as I was pouring through my daily 500-word goal this morning, something happened: I cried. Not because I hit my word count goal for the month, but because sometimes writing just consumes all of you, even the emotional parts.

I cried through the scene and I cried as I validated my word count to earn this top photo. I probably could have kept going, but it’s Monday and I have a lot more on my to-do list I needed to finish before going back to it. I’ll continue 500 words a day until the end of Camp, because, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I have fallen in love with my book all over again. But I needed a break. I didn’t expect to react to the scene the way I did.

If you’ve experienced intense emotions while writing, you’re not alone, and, good news: you’re normal. You should be glad you’re having such strong reactions to the things happening inside your head and out on the screen in front of you. Here’s why.

If you feel, your readers will feel

Not only do you want your readers to enjoy the experience of reading your work: you want them to react to it. Whether that reaction is good (“Yes! Harry lives!”) or not so good (“HEDWIG!!!!!!!”) it’s still a reaction. Sometimes we write to inform. Sometimes we write to entertain. But no matter the overall, we should always aim to nail a reader right in the heart.

How can you tell if your words will produce a reaction? By evaluating your own. Your emotions can not only fuel your words, but can help you gauge how someone else might feel at the same parts of the story. If a scene is supposed to make someone sad, but you don’t feel sad writing it … make it sadder!

Writing about emotional experiences is good for you, too

We write for ourselves, and in turn we often offer something of value to the people who read what we write. But in a lot of cases, you would still write if no one ever read your work. Wouldn’t you? Even journaling counts (have you cried journaling?). For some of us, writing heals. A positive byproduct just happens to be the act of giving someone else that same opportunity to deal with their own past experiences.

You can use storytelling as a coping mechanism for just about anything, and as you work through those story elements and put your characters through certain hardships (or it can be good things, too), it gets easier to make sense of the things that happened in your own life just by sitting at a computer and thinking of the best way to recount those moments in someone else’s point of view.

A few months back I wrote a post about funerals, and in that post I mentioned how my current book has two separate funeral scenes in it. I told you about how I’d been avoiding those scenes because I wasn’t ready to write them, but that at that point I felt I was finally ready to try.

I finally got to one of them today, and even though it’s not finished, and it’s not completely based on something that actually happened to me, the overall message resonates with me—apparently enough to make me cry while I was just trying to finish a scene and move on.

There are hidden rewards to writing. You’ll find them, as long as you keep going. Even if it requires a box of tissues.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Camp NaNoWriMo.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter. 

Solution Saturday: There Are Two Possible Endings to My Story

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Beginnings are hard. Endings? They’re just as hard! There’s no set right or wrong way to end a story, but if you want the ending to count, there are some factors to consider before hitting that final resolution point.

But what if you know how you want your book to end—in two different ways?

You have to choose one, unless you’re choose-your-own-adventure-ing, even though the thought of abandoning one good idea for another can be heartbreaking. Here are three solutions to your dilemma.

Solution 1: Pick the ending matching the message you want to get across

Sometimes it’s temping to stick with the ending you originally wrote or had in mind because you want to “trust your gut.” However, you need to keep the purpose of your story in mind. There’s going to be a specific point you want to make, and if the ending doesn’t match, the story doesn’t work.

We’ll use Paper Towns as an example here (because we need an excuse to talk about it amidst the pre-release excitement). I won’t dish out spoilers in case you haven’t read it, but Quentin (“Q”) figures out a lot of stuff and solves a lot of clues, literally and figuratively, on his epic quest to find Margo. Green’s choice of an ending rolls right along with the book’s themes, and admit it, if it had ended any other way, you probably wouldn’t love it nearly as much as you do.

Solution 2: Don’t be afraid to leave some questions unanswered

A good story doesn’t leave the reader clueless for all eternity once it runs out of pages—not where major plot points are concerned, anyway. But your falling action doesn’t have to come out in Q&A format, so to speak.

It’s okay to pose some minor questions without answering them. Real life is full of mysteries, and stories should be, too. If one of the endings you’re considering feels like an unnecessary extension to an alternate, earlier endpoint, go with the latter.

Solution 3: Choose the ending that leaves you feeling at peace 

This is different than feeling “satisfied” at the end of a story. You can be dissatisfied with an ending but still know, deep down, it was the right way to end it. Nobody wanted Snape to die, okay? Nobody (not the exact end, but close enough). But we all know it had to be that way. Even J.K. Rowling.

Even if you feel a bit unsettled with whichever ending you’re leaning toward, think of the book as a whole. Sometimes we need to kill off characters we don’t want to kill off. Sometimes we need Jo not to accept Teddy’s proposal. Every ending happens the way it does for a good reason, and as a writer, it’s your job to stand up for that good reason, even if you’re the only one arguing with yourself.

Endings are no easier to write than beginnings. Endings also open up vast realms of possibility, and choosing the right one really can make or break a story. But you know your characters and your ideas better than anyone. Take some time to really think about what your book needs to say, what it doesn’t need to say and what you know, deep down, is the right thing to … write.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Off-the-Page Strategies for Revealing Your Villain’s Motive

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The first rule of writing in villains: never let the villain be the one to reveal his or her own motive for being a meanie beanie jerkface.

Why? Because that’s what we expect a stereotypical villain to do. And while there are ways to twist around clichés to make them useable and just as enjoyable to read, you still have to thrust your own creativity into overdrive anyway, so why not go all in?

There is always a motive. And where there’s a motive, there’s both a character determined to figure it out and a reader hoping it’s not exactly what they predicted when the story first began (we’re talking to you, Pretty Little Liars fans).

Here are three strategies for revealing your villain’s motive that will both surprise your characters and satisfy your reader (your motive for writing in the first place, isn’t it?).

Surprise—the villain is actually a bigger “bad guy”’s minion 

A satisfying story—one that draws the reader in and manipulates their emotions as they turn the pages (that sounds darker than it should)—has layers. Not everyone is who we think they are. Enter “minion”—not the Despicable Me minions, come on, focus here—the real villain’s forefront, the one who does all the dirty work, probably for really crappy pay and no benefits. Your characters definitely don’t want to mess with her, unless they can persuade her to hand over classified information.

She probably won’t do it without putting up a fight—literally? On the plus side, though, he or she happens to know a thing or two about why the boss is so moody. Maybe the menace your hero thought they were fighting is just someone doing what they were told to do. But as we all know, with the dark side comes disloyalty, and there’s nothing better than two dark lords betraying each other and still losing in the end.

Have your “heroes” find the answers themselves

Sure, it’s convenient when there just so happens to be an all-knowing creature willing to share their knowledge with your MC, but convenience doesn’t always sell. Motives are a form of mystery within any kind of story, and the easier you make it for your character to find the answers to the questions, the less satisfied your reader—and probably you—will be.

Uncovering a motive should play out like a treasure hunt. As the story progresses, have the characters find bits and pieces of the overlying mystery. Especially if the motive isn’t the main plot point, you don’t want to build up mounds of suspense only to have the answers spill over all at once like an erupting falling action volcano.

And on that note, here’s a fun challenge: come up with a villain that doesn’t have a motive. They have no freaking idea why they’re evil. It’s a mystery within a mystery. Don’t have too much fun with that one. On second thought, please do.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.

Three Ways to Kill Off Your First-Person Narrator (without Ending the Story)

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If you’re consistently afraid your ideas aren’t original, in all honesty, they aren’t. Every basic storyline you can probably think of has already been written. One of the most challenging, but often the most fun and stimulating, parts of writing is taking a story everyone has read before and reshaping it enough to make it new, exciting and (almost) original.

We don’t see first-person narrators die all too often, and when we do, we usually get some version of The Lovely Bones I’m-dead-but-not-dead-enough-not-to-narrate scenario. If you want to play around with something a little more challenging, and try to make it your own, kill off your first-person narrator—but don’t end the story there. Here are some strategies you can try.

Switch to a new perspective

Sometimes we do see a prologue or a first chapter in a first-person narrator’s perspective before it switches over to the actual main character, but you don’t have to do it this way. One way to draw a reader into your out-of-the-box technique is to allow them to get to know your first person narrator before they, ahem, cease to exist.

You could potentially try to fill half of your story with accounts from one first-person narrator before permanently switching to a different narrator’s POV to finish out. Plot twist! Bet they won’t see that coming. 

Take the reader back in time

Playing with a plot’s chronological order is another method some writers use to keep a reader turning pages. This is one way to keep a story going even though, at some point—probably toward the beginning in this case—you reveal the storyteller is no longer alive, and therefore, more realistically, unable to continue storytelling.

Jump back-and-forth between the point they’re killed off and the events leading up to it. There’s no “I should have known then,” here, so you’re also giving the reader more of an opportunity to infer and scream “NO DON’T GO INTO THE KITCHEN” at the pages.

Bring them back to life 

Okay, this one’s a little iffy, but if you really want to try it, you can make it work with some effort. Jodi Picoult did (spoiler alert). Hey, it worked in the Bible, didn’t it? You don’t have to get fancy—there doesn’t have to be a medical explanation or even a team of people trying to figure out how a dead heart started beating again.

Don’t go into the supernatural if that’s not your intention. Maybe they were only dead for a few minutes and came back, but it feels like they missed out on years. Maybe your angle is to make the reader think your narrator is dead, even though she isn’t.

In general, we’re almost obsessively interested in what happens when we die. As a writer, you’re free to play with the concept as much or as little as you want to. There are ways to take something that’s already been done before and twist it around until it resembles something newer. If you have an unpredictable storyline, strong characters and tap into pathos like a boss, you’ll be fine.

Your narrator might not be … but that’s a sacrifice you’re probably willing to make.

Image courtesy of Kaitrosebd-Stock.