How long have you known your characters in your current writing project?
Did you create them recently? Or have they been your companions for a very long time?
Perhaps a character came to you in the long distance of your memory and inspired you to build a story for him or her. Since then, have you created an entire world for this character to inhabit? And if so, how long have you been living there? A few months? Or several years?
If you and this character have been cohabiting for YEARS, then it’s time to re-evaluate the situation by asking yourself some questions:
a) Why are you still writing about this same character?
If it’s because you’re writing a series, fine. Good for you.
If it’s because you’re still writing the countless draft of the same manuscript that you began in 1983, then it’s time to try something new.
b) What about this character fascinates you so much?
If the character is nuanced, multi-dimensional, complex, fascinating, and dynamic, fine. If you have such a character and your story is stuck, chances are you haven’t developed sufficient writing skills worthy of your creation.
However, if you’re clinging to this character from a psychological or emotional need only, then it’s time to date a new protagonist.
c) Is this character based on a real person?
If you’ve gleaned a few personality traits from various people you know and combined them into one invented individual, okay.
If you’ve based this character solely on one real person or someone that experienced the plot events you’re trying to write about, then you’re going to be hindered or inhibited from writing your story to its best dramatic potential.
d) When a writing coach gives you constructive criticism about changing this character, do you become defensive or angry?
If you’re acting like a mama bear defending her cub, that hostility is a sure indication that you’ve grown too attached to the character, and the character is now smothering your creativity. It’s possible to become rooted in stone, too rigid to accept change.
It can be hard to break up with a protagonist you’ve cherished too long. Perhaps this imaginary individual was part of your first experience with creative inspiration. Perhaps this imaginary individual led you to becoming a writer.
You don’t have to stop cherishing this character in order to move on. You aren’t going to be a failure because you’ve never satisfactorily written this character’s story. You aren’t betraying this character just because you create another one.
You aren’t killing the character or destroying the character in any way. But you shouldn’t let your fascination with him or her impede your progress or growth as a writer.
When we become too enamored of a character yet we can’t complete that person’s story, we become stalled in a creative corner. In such cases, we don’t always realize what’s happened. We aren’t always aware that we’ve constructed a protective shield over the character, a shield that prevents us from altering the character’s behavior or even the plot.
Such a situation becomes a quagmire, especially if the character is based on a real person. You’re unwilling to change the character because that wouldn’t be what she’s really like, and yet until or unless you do, the story will remain stuck.
Keep in mind that real life and fiction aren’t the same thing. Fiction is art. It can mirror reality. It can replicate reality. But it’s never identical to reality or a true duplication of it. Things that happen in the real world may seem completely unbelievable on the page.
1) Remember that you’re the author. You’re in charge. You can create or delete a character. The character never controls you.
2) Set the character and your stalled story aside. If you feel as though you’re abandoning it, think of this move as a temporary shift to a new idea.
3) Divide your weekly writing time equally between the old character and plot and the new ones. For example, work on old story Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and new story on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Gradually apportion more days to the new story.
4) Even if you don’t much care for a new protagonist, play fair and give this character a chance. Devise personality traits, a background, tags of appearance and behavior, goals, and true nature. If it feels awkward, reassure yourself that you’re conducting drill exercises.
Practicing and experimenting with “temporary” characters is a better way to hone your craft anyway. Your cherished character isn’t threatened, and you don’t have to feel defensive.
5) Create one new protagonist a week. Sooner or later, you’ll invent one that ignites a spark of interest inside you. Write a short story featuring that protagonist.
6) If you still like the protagonist after completing a short story, then ask yourself if you could expand that story into a novel.
You will be on your way toward new growth as a writer.
You won’t feel defensive and threatened.