I wish I had known that before I wrote 100,000 words


Writing is a journey of discovery, self-actualization, revelation, and I’m sure a bunch of other stuff to a bunch of other writers. For me, who comes to the craft relatively late in life and without formal training (i.e. – English Major, degree in Creative Writing, or similar) learning to write comes with its share of time-wasting mistakes, too.

I recently attended the University of Wisconsin’s Writers’ Institute, where those mistakes reared their ugly heads as expert after expert laid bare my woeful skill level through teaching their respective workshops. The best lesson I learned was how one-dimensional my characters are and how to invigorate them with life and interest. Lori Devoti (loridevoti.com), an experienced author and engaging instructor, offered an excellent workshop at UWWI titled, “Characters—Beyond Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.”

Ms. Devoti laid out an excellent blue print of how to layer your character’s personalities, discovering their weaknesses, strengths, dark sides, fears, core needs, and other elements vital to creating three-dimensional characters that are able to capture a reader’s imagination and pull them into the story. This is how I will construct my characters from now on. Previous to this, I generated some random names, picked the interesting ones, filled out a simplistic character worksheet that asked me about the characters’ personal background—things like age, physical appearance, education, family background, career, strengths, weaknesses, relationships, and the like. Easy enough to do, and sufficient for creating a believable character, just not someone you would find fascinating enough to want to follow around for days on end, or drag into a coffee shop and have them give you their life story over endless lattes.

Only when I had written most of the book did I realize that the characters were missing something. Turns out it was their fears, strengths, weaknesses, goals, core needs, and all that other good stuff that makes each of us a complicated, unique individual.

After attending her workshop, I realize I need to go back over my manuscript and painstakingly evaluate every significant character so as to understand their goals, motivations, conflicts on a much deeper level, and then figure out how to transfer those traits into the story. Wish I had done all that prep work before I started. *BIG SIGH*. Oh well, you write, you learn, you improve, you revise. I will make my characters stand out!

What have you learned about writing since you started that you wish you had known before starting?

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5 responses to “I wish I had known that before I wrote 100,000 words

  1. I love your title–and I’ve felt like that before! I’m at work on my third novel, and each one has offered more than a few “ah ha!” moments during the initial drafts and then during the revision process. Right now I’m trying a plot-first approach, which is brand new to me! Once I write those 100,000 words, I’ll know what I wish I knew right now…

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    • Thanks, Laura. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there. I’m with you on plotting first, as well as developing characters. FYI, check out Larry Brooks’ blog, storyfix.com, if you haven’t already. He’s got some great ideas (books and articles as well as blog posts) about plotting first vs. pantsing (what you and I have done–make it up as we go along. I think it refers to ‘flying by the seat of one’s pants.’)

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  2. Beyond the sharping my skills as an author. Over the years I’ve also developed my writer’s philosophy. Basically, don’t buy worry. My job as a writer is to write, submit, revise and market my book. And in this way, slowly word-by-word, I will build my career.

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