Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing from Minor Character POVs: Getting Your Fiction Muscles Working

I miss writing fiction.

I'm thankful beyond words that I am writing as much as I am right now. I enjoy writing reviews and even, in a strange way, boring web content. Writing is writing. I love crafting sentences. I'd rather do it than anything else I do, even the workhorse parts of writing.

But oh, I miss writing fiction. It's not just a matter of finding the time to do it, though that is a perpetual challenge. It's a matter of being able to dive in and do it in the seven minutes here, three minutes there that I can squeeze in. It's feeling frustrated when I only have a little bit of time and discover that a lack of writing fiction over the past couple of weeks has made my fiction muscles rusty. We all know that sometimes it can take a couple of pages to warm up and even get to a place where you're writing anything worth keeping, and sometimes the warm up time is all I can manage.

The other morning I woke up from a dream about the characters in my novel -- the novel I haven't had time to work on for several weeks. Dreaming about characters is a lovely gift to any writer. You wake up hearing echoes of their voices, and if you're really blessed, you've got the contours of a scene all ready and waiting to make the leap to paper.

Dream scenes fade quickly though, and in this particular case, I had "one of those days" where I simply could not grab any space or time to write. The scene slithered away from me. Argh.

When it's been a while since I've been in story mode, I sometimes find that playing around in someone else's story world is just what I need to get my fiction muscles working again. It takes less creative and mental energy than diving into something completely original, but it can definitely provide terrific writing practice.

Yes, this is what most people call fan-fiction, and it can be fun to write it just for the fun of writing it (nothing wrong with that)! But I've been discovering lately that in addition to a mental health break, writing this kind of fiction can be a great exercise in story crafting.

It's especially helpful if you approach a story from the perspective of a minor character. Give this a try the next time you only have a few minutes to write and need to get yourself in gear quickly. Pick a favorite movie or a book, one you know really well, and dive into an already established scene. But dive into it from the perspective of a minor character --- someone who doesn't have a big role to play, someone in the crowd observing the action, someone completely on the sidelines. Maybe it's a character from another part of the story who isn't there in the original action, but whom you put there, eavesdropping behind a door. Maybe it's a character in the original scene who says one thing but looks like they're dying to say something else, and you, the writer, can climb inside their head and think through their unvoiced thoughts and motivations. This kind of writing becomes an exercise in thinking through character as well as plot and tone.

Writing a scene you already know but from an entirely different perspective is a great exercise -- both in thinking through what you want to include, and what slant you want to give it, and thinking through why the original author of a scene wrote it they way she or he did. Once you get going, you may find yourself inventing new scenes for the story -- scenes only hinted at but never shown, scenes that you wish had been there, scenes that must have been there in the skeleton background but were never brought forward.

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