I'm just whining, don't mind me

A) I have been not writing for far too long.

B) I don’t know how to edit.

C) I have so many stories awaiting editing that I don’t want to start a new story to add to that pile.

D) I’m trying to learn how to write a scene with a known end point (see point B) by writing a new story complementary to an existing story, to fill in the blanks of an important but relatively unknown character. I chose a whole story because there are lots of scenes, and thus lots of chances to practise this skill.

E) I don’t seem to know how to outline, either.

F) How do you tell a character what his or her motivation is? Usually they tell me.


Er, well, how about assembling them all in a bar and asking them what the hell just happened? Hide the microphone under the bar and you can spend the next week transcribing the tapes. That’s writing isn’t it?


that sounds like a novel approach :slight_smile:

sorry couldn’t resist :blush:

Well, shortly after writing that whine, I sat down and wrote about 1000 words. I guess it had been blocking me, so getting it out of the way freed me to write. Strange how that works.

As for sitting the characters down in a bar and asking them what happened, that isn’t really what I meant by “they tell me” - the way they act in the scenes tells me about their personality and from there I deduce their motivations. The problem I have is in a character who hasn’t been in enough scenes for me to know them yet. I’ve never been able to build a decent character sheet before writing the character; character sheets for me are a way of tracking what the character already is so I can make sure they grow consistently. It’s the same thing as with outlining - I have to base it on what is already written before I can add anything new in outline form, for it to make any kind of sense.

Sounds like you approach characters the way I used to approach some news stories. Frustratingly blocked, I’d write down a “working lede” or throwaway first paragraph, just so I could get on with writing the body of the story. Then, I’d often have a clearer head to return to the top of the story and write a better “lede.” You’re writing scenes that help you get on with the rest of the story, so you can then go back and write the character sheets. Sounds like it works! :smiley: Just make sure you do eventually know your characters’ backstories, their personalities and their motivations, or they can just take your story and run away with it! :open_mouth:

That is exactly the ‘problem’ I have, but I’ve never been able to put it so well! I’ve often thought there must be something wrong with me because those ‘character questionnaires’ you see all over the place are utterly useless to me.

Nothing to add, really, I’m just glad I’m not alone :smiley:

antony - you’re far from alone. I understand it’s a common issue.

I have found the character questionnaires useful in fleshing out a character that I have already started to know, to remind me of other facets of personality, but starting with them? I’ve tried, and the characters always come out so mechanical and implausible. I prefer letting random stuff crop up in scenes and building from that. Like the time I had an alien say it just loved oatmeal cookies. I wrote that, then immediately said to myself, WTF??? But that fit its personality.

Really, it isn’t a problem except when I know I must have a character who must fill certain requirements when I’m editing. Right now, it’s: my antagonist character needs assistants, and they have this set of roles. What is their motivation for helping her?

Jaqui - but it’s so much more fun when the characters run off and take the story with them!

I mean, I try to keep the ultimate goal that I want them to reach in mind, but how they get there is up to them. Which is fine for first drafts, but really isn’t useful when editing, because they’re prone to seeing a side trail I hadn’t noticed and heading off that way instead of building the bridge between two scenes that they were supposed to do.

This is, seriously, quite the revelation to me. I wish I’d known this before, it would have saved me a few existential crises in the past! :slight_smile:

While there is a very large and very vocal contingent who swears by making extensive use of character sheets before they start writing, they don’t represent the only option. They’re just louder than the ones like us, who just write the characters. I think that’s because we’re writing, instead of talking about how we’re going to write :stuck_out_tongue: :laughing:

There’s an amusing contingent who swear by the character sheets, then complain that after a couple of scenes their character throws everything on the character sheets out and goes to do their own thing. Many of them spend a lot of time trying to find better character sheets to start with, when I’ve found that that particular problem goes away if you write a few scenes and then do the character sheets.

I confess. I’ve created character sheets, but like you, created them after I’d invented the character or even written a scene or two about that person. Most of the time, I have no character sheets; nevertheless, I do know the characters’ backstories and all their other relevant information. After all, I have to know their essential traits, or they could end up behaving erratically; unless I’m writing about someone who’s mentally ill, that’s not a good thing.

That’s how I keep my characters from running amok, which was the biggest piece of advice I got from one of my fellow reporters, who turned out to have been a published sci fi writer. “Keep 'em under control, Jacqi,” she told me about my characters. “Otherwise, they’ll take you places you might not want to go.”

One thing I’ve tried with some success is to try out different “what if so-and-so did such-and-such …?” scenarios with the characters, but in a separate word processing file or otherwise outside of the overall narrative thread. Most of the time, I realize when I’m finished that it doesn’t logically fit in the story, and I don’t include it. For example, I’ve tried a couple of different scenarios that, when taken to their logical conclusion, end up with my main character committing treason, which is completely inconsistent with her personality and mindset, and completely inconsistent with the direction I intend for her to take! Sometimes, though, I realize I’ve mined a little vein of gold, and I add it. This is much easier with Scrivener at our disposal. So, I do get to explore the side streets and alleyways my characters might take. It is a heck of a lot of fun, and it helps if you’re feeling you might become blocked and you want a little diversion to ward it off.

But “places I don’t want to go” often turn out to be the most interesting ones, and the most productive, so far as overall narrative is concerned. I do try to keep a sort of leash on the minor characters, but the central characters, they have much more freedom to roam. I’ve found that, if I trust their judgement rather than my caution, the story usually gets a lot better.

Maybe that’s why I never even try character sheets any more. What I will do frequently is go to a shopping mall or a large park or a crowded street and watch for someone who reminds me of one of my characters. It helps figure out how a character moves, how s/he related to the environment, even how s/he talks if I get close enough. Of course, it has to be done casually and only in short bursts, or mall security will be pulling you in for an explanation.


Hey, if it works, keep doing it!

I’ve noticed that too, PJS - the characters have better ideas than I do sometimes. I try to keep the minor characters in line, and mostly succeed (at keeping them fairly flat :confused: ), although I have had a minor character transform herself into a relatively major one through sheer force of personality. Even though that personality changed a couple of times during edits.

Or, for those who don’t believe in the characters actually having their own life independent of my ideas, I can come up with better ideas when writing the character’s actions than I can when planning them outside of the narrative.

There is a big difference between being a good story teller and telling a good story.

The over all best idea is to be a good story teller and tell a good story.

The reason is anyone can tell a good story and it would be a good story but a good story teller can take a good story and tell it in such a way that it becomes a great story.

Fiction is more of a “story telling” than it is a transcription of events.

When it comes to “editing, outlines, etc.” that is just organizational methods used by good story tellers.

The idea is to first have a raw story (first draft) then go through and figure out how you would best like to tell it. Everything else is just working methods.