Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When Things Go Pear-Shaped, Part II: What Are You Guys DOING?!

In the frenzy of fast-paced Week One, it's common for things to get a little out of control. In 2005, after finally managing to get my characters off the train they'd occupied for much of the story, I was at a loss as to how to get them to the next point. The NaNoWriMo forums suggested I write an angry letter to my characters as a way of coping with the frustrations they were causing. So I did. I wrote to my primary characters:
Dear Sarah and Aristotle:

I'm thankful you've finally gotten off the damn train after spending most of the story's existing 5892 words on it. Really, I am. But now there's a monster chasing you and what the crap are you gonna do? You can't run forever! Aristotle's cloak is way too freakin' big on him; he's gonna trip and fall down on his skinny butt. And then you'll both get eaten. Or captured. Or ... oy vey.

And I wrote to the villains, too, who were equally mired in the 'I just wrote my butt off for nine days and now I don't know what's going on' swamp:

Dear mysterious bad guy:

Who the heck are you? What do you want? Why are you sending weird monsters and little black flying things after a train? Does Aristotle's magic cloak smell like candy to you? 'Cos it's not made of candy, dude. Just FYI.

Dear bandits:

Who are you working for?

And the passengers on the train, who'd suddenly become irrelevant or something, because I'd ceased mentioning them, though there was a giant monster about to smash up the train:

Dear train passengers:

Where did you go?

While this process was perhaps less actually helpful as cathartic, a friend of mine answered the letters as their addressees, to my great amusement:

Dear Author,
Aristotle is nice and all, but if it's gonna be him or me, the skinny bastard's lunch. If he doesn't trip I'll kick him. That should give me time to escape.

Dear Author,
My magic cloak will get me out of this! Sarah may not make it, but that will give me the courage and drive for vengeance to carry on and beat the bad guy. I might even tear up a little at that emotional scene at the end, even though she tried to kick me.

Dear Author,
I know the cloak isn't candy. You don't get to be a mysterious bad guy (TM) without learning that cloaks aren't candy.
I wasn't originally going after those two runts. I wanted the train. But they were too close to my devious plans and might have seen something. So I have to take care of them before they get to the police. But dont' worry. I have plenty of hungry monsters to take care of them. And they haven't learned the truth about cloaks...
Mysterious Bad Guy

Dear Author,
We're working for the mysterious bad guy.
The Bandits

Mmmmuugnnnn Mmmmmerrrmmmn,
Mmmmwhhuhhh mmm mmmmmrrrmm. Mmm uhhhhggnnnn Mmmwwwwmmhh.
Mwnnng mmmwhhhh mmmmerkmmmn

*Loosely translated to:

Dear Author,
We're in the monster's belly. Please send help.
The Train Passengers

This served not only to crack me up, which I needed as I proceeded into the dreaded Week Two doldrums, but also showed me that my characters' personalities were coming across as I'd intended. Sarah's not quite so self-involved and bloodthirsty as to actually leave Aristotle behind to be eaten, but it's not out of the ordinary to suggest she might seriously think about it, especially as he was not only out-of-shape but somewhat irritating to boot.

So if your story goes a bit off-track or your characters wind up going off in an unexpected direction, you might try writing them a letter. If nothing else, it'll let you blow off some steam.

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