Thursday, September 21, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#4: Character Wish List)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #4, we're going to focus on CHARACTER DESIRE. If you read writer's craft books, websites, or blog posts, you'll hear the same question over and over: What does your main character want? It's the vital backbone of your story, because readers relate and commiserate with characters who deeply want something, and have to overcome obstacles to get what they want. The desire can be anything from a love interest to saving the world to winning a sewing bee. But your main character (and your antagonist) must want something, or that want must propel them into action.

Use a paper and pen, or a computer, and make a list of everything your main character wants. This should definitely include the want that makes up the main plot of the book (for example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants to go home). Then, take some time and brainstorm everything else your main character wants. Again, using The Wizard of Oz as an example, Dorothy's 'wish list' might look like this:

1) To go home
2) To defeat the Wicked Witch of the West
3) To bring the witch's broom to the Wizard
4) To protect Toto
5) To protect my other friends
6) To help my friends achieve their own desires (a brain, a heart, courage)
7) To avoid being kidnapped by the flying monkeys
8) To figure out a way out of the sealed room before the witch kills me
9) To not get blisters from walking miles in the ruby slippers (just kidding)
10) Others?

You can see that for a well-drawn character in a well-constructed narrative, the main character has many desires. It makes them more interesting and relatable to the reader, and makes it more understandable when they take action.

Once you've finished brainstorming your main character's wish list, turn to your antagonist and do the same. Does your antagonist want something deeper than to beat the hero? Dive into your antagonist's back story and see what you can come up with.

Did you run into any surprises while brainstorming your main character's and antagonist's wish lists?


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