Take Care of Your Characters

Have you ever been writing a story and get the worst writer’s block? Maybe you simply can’t figure out where the plot should go or why your characters are even in the situation in the first place. If you’ve had this experience, don’t worry. You are not alone. (If you haven’t, then I am jealous of your talent.) A good method to use when you get writer’s block is to focus on your characters. The plot is definitely the main element of a story, but the characters have a huge impact on where the plot is going.

If you’re like me, then you can get caught up in all the plot details like how Person A and Person B will finally fall in love and be together or how the hero will climb out of the hopeless situation he’s been thrown into. These, along with many other types of plot details, rely on characters. If you can figure out what you want your character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations to be, then you can figure out where your story is going.

One thing I like to do in order to keep everything organized in my brain and give me a visual aid is make character sheets. I compile a list of all the things I would want to know about my character. And this isn’t limited to a simple description like eye color, hair style, body type, and clothing. Although appearances can give certain clues to the identities of people, they do not tell the entire story. You can also list personality traits. What mood are they in most of the time? Give both the good and bad side of their character. Also, list some other random facts about them. What annoys your character to the nth degree? What can they simply not resist? What is their sense of humor like? What are their greatest fears? Do they have any deep, dark secrets? All of these attributes can affect your characters’ actions and therefore guide the plot of your story in a specific direction.

If you’ve got all this stuff down already, then maybe it’s time for a plot twist of some sort; you may need something unexpected to happen. Well, this may sound harsh, but to do this, you’ll probably need to put your character through a little (or a lot) of turmoil. But don’t be afraid to be mean to your characters. A lot of the time, the most influential moment in a novel or short story is when something negatively impacts the characters, especially the main protagonist. If they take something for granted, take it away, whether it be an object or a person. It will cause them to either change routes or test their commitment to a certain path. Maybe they have a belief or a certain someone or something they believe in. Make them doubt it. Make them confused. They may choose to seek out another truth or maybe they will overcome it and have a new, stronger faith. Remember their worst fears? Use them. They could fall in defeat or overcome it.

I used a couple of these methods when I was in one of my creative slumps as I was writing one of my fantasy stories. I specifically turned to my protagonist’s loved ones. My young, orphaned heroine had recently begun to form a positive and growing relationship with her newfound father figure and mentor, and she couldn’t have felt happier or safer with him. The plot grew to a standstill because the protagonist felt too safe and had no reason to move forward in her quest, so I decided that this was the time the villain should strike and take away this new safety from my heroine. I didn’t exactly kill the beloved mentor off, but I left barely enough hope for the heroine to hold onto so that she would have the motivation to continue her quest and fulfill her destiny in my story. Saving him and the goal of her quest became the same, so if she believed that she could save her mentor, then she would have the motivation to fulfill her destiny in completing her quest.

You can use these concepts and techniques to both develop your characters’ identities and push the story forward. Thinking about your characters, their actions, their beliefs, their fears will help aim the plot of your story in a certain direction. Without your characters, there would be no story.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Outside My Window

I sat up straight, unsure of what had awakened me. Everything in the room was the same. The desk was still in the corner, the nightstand was still next to my bed, my bed was standing by the door, right across from the enormous window and next to my roommate’s. However, something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something had changed. I was sure of it.

Being the curious person that I am, I crawled out of bed and stumbled around the room, trying not to wake up my roommate who was curled under her pile of blankets. I stopped walking and rapidly shook my head, trying to wake up. I felt a strange awe and wonder that I had never felt before. I just knew someone was watching me, but, for some reason, I was not scared. In fact, I felt something I had not felt in a long time: completely and utter tranquility. I swirled around and looked out my window, staring straight into the large, round, white moon. I surveyed the street; nothing moved. In the peaceful silence, I merely stared; there was nothing more I could do. I could not quite explain it, but as soon as I saw the street outside my window, I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I snuggled peacefully in my warm bed, unsure of what tomorrow might bring.

* * * * *

I was awakened by the sound of our opening door. My roommate was coming in from her morning run. That could mean only one thing: I was late for class. I jumped out of bed, startling my roommate.

“Shouldn’t you be gone?”

“Yeah, yeah. I… had an unusual night. Did you notice anything strange outside? Anything… different?”

“Yeah! You didn’t run past me, mumbling that you were late for class! You’d better hurry, girl! Your class starts in five minutes!”

As I threw on my clothes and grabbed my books, I kept glancing out the window. It looked normal: the trees waved in the breeze, the ducks dipped their heads in the rippling pond down the hill, and…

“Do you feel that?” I felt that strange wonder again. While it was comforting, I had no idea what it was. I felt safe and without worry, like all my cares could be taken away if only I were to be able to grasp whatever was giving me this feeling.

My roommate turned around and studied me. “I don’t feel anything. Are you okay?”

I looked at her and back at the window. What had I felt? Was I really okay?

“Yeah, I was just messing with ya. I don’t think I am completely awake yet. See ya later.” I hesitantly walked out the door. Was I losing my mind?

I rushed into class just as Professor Write was handing out one of her infamous quizzes. She looked at me with her chastising eyes, and I met them with the most apologetic expression I could conjure. I couldn’t get my mind off of what I had felt last night and this morning. But what had I felt?

I whipped through the quiz, as always. I don’t know what my fellow classmates feared in these assessments, but I loved the chance for easy points.

Still, I could not get my mind off that… whatever it was… outside my window.

I leaned over to Melissa, my faithful study companion, and asked, “Did you feel anything different this morning… or last night?”

She looked at me, questioningly, but I could tell she knew what I was talking about. A flood of relief swept over me; I was not insane. But that relief was immediately replaced with curiosity.

Melissa leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ll tell you after class.”

After a rather interesting lecture, I ran to catch up to Melissa in the lobby. “So…?”

“What do you think you felt?”

“Whatever it was, it made me feel a sense of, something good and right, like I had never felt before. But, it still made me feel rather uneasy. I really can’t explain it.”

“Well, I believe in an omnipresent God.”

“Oh, please, not that again.”

“Please, just hear me out. I believe He is always watching over us, His presence is not something to fear. He loves you more than you can ever know, so much He died on the cross for you.”

As she spoke, I saw how passionate she was about this. I thought about what had happened, glancing around the room to avoid her gaze. I didn’t want to… but…

“Could you maybe tell me more about this?” I finally conceded.

She smiled, and I knew my life would never be the same.

Written by Michelle

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Letter to the Fiction Writer


“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

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The Cat

The cat’s long, black tail swings down from the branch, swaying in the breeze. As a kitten, she was taught to never give away her position when hidden in a tree, but things are better now. She can relax around these humans as long as she is out of their reach. She’s learned from experience that staying away from the humans is, in general, a good idea, but they won’t hurt her if they see her. Not the way they once did. The cat hasn’t been around for long enough to remember a time when the humans, especially the male variants, took a liking to making cats’ lives miserable, and she’s glad that they have learned their lesson.

From her perch, she watches silently as the sun rises and the humans come back to life. Slowly, one by one, they begin to emerge from their homes, yawning and bleary-eyed. Most are laden with cloth bags filled with bricks (or so she thinks, based on the way some of the humans are bent under their weights). As the sun gets higher, more and more humans appear, progressively looking and sounding more awake. Some of them are practically bouncing as they walk; others shout at their friends as they somehow use their inferior vision to spot a member of their species across the street. Groups of them pass by the cat’s tree, all talking loudly. Some are laughing, even shoving each other around playfully, like little kittens playing in the street. The cat simply doesn’t understand such immaturity, but she reminds herself that they are humans, after all, and they can’t be expected to carry the same dignity as cats.

Some of the groups are more solemn, but the cat doesn’t like those groups, either. Three females walk past, one with water running down her face (the cat has never understood the point of this human ability); “She lied to me!” the wet one warbles, only for the humans to awkwardly assure her that “everything will be okay.”

Humph, the cat scoffs to herself. Weak humans. If I mewled like a kitten every time a cat lied to me, I’d never eat.

The cat moves to an adjoining branch to get a different viewing angle on the next group, another set of females. Their faces are all red; the cat wishes in their stead that they could grow fur to cover that up. “Who does he think he is?!” one of them screeches, piercing the cat’s sensitive ears. “Sometimes I just want to smack him. What a jerk!”

Once again, the cat rolls her yellow eyes in annoyance. Who cares what one human thinks of another? Focus on making yourself less annoying, and maybe you won’t have to complain so loudly.

Shortly after, a group of males walks by, shoving each other and laughing so that the cat’s ears pin themselves to her head. Nevertheless, her impeccable hearing still deciphers their speech; “Bro, you need a break. Let’s play Smash this weekend, you can catch up later.”

Skipping work to play games? How immature. How do these humans expect to survive by playing games like kittens all day? The cat flicks her tail in annoyance. As soon as the humans are all gone, she plans to descend the tree and find a quieter spot to brood.

The next face that comes along is one the cat immediately recognizes. This female leaves food out almost every day next to her home just for the stray cats in the area, and she never yells, but merely whispers on the off chance that the cat lets her guard down near her. Unlike the other humans, she is alone, and she holds her phone up to her ear, speaking into it; “I don’t know what to tell you, girl. God’s in control, so just don’t freak out. He’s in control and he loves you, just don’t forget that, okay…?”

The cat relaxes as the human strolls away. At least one of them is bearable.

The stream of humans has ended at last, and the cat gracefully leaps from her perch and slinks away, head and tail high.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cat_on_the_tree_3.jpg