Monday, October 18

Free writing

When I’m really stuck—writer’s block that just won’t crumble—I like to utilize my own version of free writing in order to get better acquainted with my characters.

I learned about free writing several years ago from a creative writing teacher. As a prewriting technique undertaken during a set period of time and without concern for typos or content, I found it useful for summoning topic ideas and for removing anxiety over whether I was up to par as a writer. But using it as a tool to get to know my characters better was something that only recently occurred to me to try.

Deep emotions—especially if they strike close to home—are often hard for me to work through. Instead of plodding along and hitting just the basics, not getting to the real heart of the matter, or retreating and checking email and surfing the web, I like to back out of the scene altogether and put my character in a totally different setting. Even a totally different story.

For instance, in the YA I’m currently working on I have a young girl with a cousin who was adopted from Africa. In working through a scene with my MC, Shelby, and her cousin, Halla, I stopped writing the scene and backed up five years to the point where the Halla first joined the family. Without a time limit I streamed everything I could imagine that a young Shelby—then seven—might have felt or experienced. For example, she had been the youngest and it wasn’t easy for her to see her grandmother cuddling Halla and singing to her. Halla also got a new pink teddy bear Shelby really would have liked to have. I was able to write several pages detailing Shelby’s feelings, and even kept a few paragraphs when I went back to writing the scene I needed to finish.

I’ve heard others talk about how they put their characters into different sets of circumstances just to see how they react. That’s so fascinating to me—the myriad possibilities for new twists and turns in story lines just waiting to be discovered. Character traits you didn’t even know your character possessed. Taking characters back to their childhood or fast-forwarding to old-age as they look back on what they wished they would have done.

How has free writing worked for you? Teach me. I want to learn!


Misha said...

I tend to free write to get through emotions and difficult circumstances in my life.

On the other hand, everything I write in Doorways is pretty much free written, as I write it in the shortest time possible without reading back or editing.

I write until whatever I'm writing is done.

Lori said...

I tend to be very regimented in my writing--I like to know exactly where my story is headed before I sit down to write. But I'm learning to loosen up.

My forays into exploring my characters have convinced me that great things can happen outside of the structure I'd convinced myself I needed to have.

Thanks for your comments, Misha!

Foxglove Spires said...

How amazing Lori,I was just thinking about this tonight. I am just starting on the road to understand and learn this myself, it is an exciting journey!

Ca88andra said...

I think free writing might be what I learnt as stream of consciousness writing. I think it does help with writers block, but I always forget to do it!

Lori said...

Welcome, Foxglove, and thank you for your comments. It is indeed an exciting journey!

Ca88andra: For me it takes willpower--forcing myself away from the internal editor and any structure. However, the more I practice it, the more I find myself enjoying the process.

Wendy Walker Cushing said...

Great advice!

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