The Writing Process: Stay in Character

So now I have my ending, I know where my protagonist begins and where she ends up. (Though I talked about the importance of endings yesterday, beginnings can also give clues to what the ending should be, as long as the central conflict is clear.) I start to think about the journey to the finale, and what characters she needs to meet along the way.

I find it helpful to start with archetypes, and develop nuance and specificity as I go. Sometimes, fully fleshed-out characters emerge from my subconscious like fun little gifts. The same can happen with scenes. I’ll feel an impulse and look up from my laptop an hour later, having written a good scene as if by magic. But this rarely happens at the start of my process. Usually, I’ve already done the heavy lifting and inspiration has a clear route to flow through.

When I work with actors, I tell them that the script is like a painting. Each word of dialogue, description and action is deliberately placed to serve the protagonist’s transformation. So as I’m writing, I try to make sure I’m doing this. I ask myself over and over: how is this character serving the story? What is she teaching/showing the protagonist? What challenges does she pose? What is her role? Sometimes, just having the character pursue something that causes conflict with the protagonist is enough.

Next Week: Beat it: How I Put My Story on a Board