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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear You. It's Me again.

Yesterday, a magical thing happened. I saw a piece of binder paper shoved back in my overhead cubicle cabinet. It looked like a kid had ripped it out of a notebook and folded it up with the intention of giving it to a friend or keeping it in her hope chest for safe keeping.
I was bewildered. What in the world is this?
I took it out and unfolded it. There, in clumsy handwriting, was a letter to me from Ana Bardwell, my protagonist. She started off telling me about her mother and her poor relationship with her. I read, charmed the whole time. Ana can be charming in an irreverant, childish way even though she's eighteen years old and needs to start acting like an adult.

I believe we've discussed this before on this blog, but I can't stress enough the value of character letters. Every good piece of literature has characters you can't forget even if you try. When people talk about Pride and Prejudice, do they talk about the plot as much as they talk about that irresistible Mr. Darcy? In Harry Potter, are people entranced with the typical good vs. evil fight or Dumbledore and Fred and George Weasley? What attaches us to Catcher in the Rye? What's the plot of that book? Um...a guy walks around and does stuff for a day. We're enthralled with Holden Caulfield, aren't we?
Most of the time, when I'm in a jam, it's because I don't know or understand one of my characters. It's taken me years to understand Ana. She used to be a subservient, passive creature who never did anything proactive. The plot revolved around her while she sat there. Needless to say, the book was unpublishable.
If you're stuck, the best thing to do for many people is to write a letter to you from one of your characters. This technique has written entire scenes for me! At the end of the day, you'll be looking at a document that comes directly from the heart of your character and doesn't seem familiar to your personal style.
Our characters are more than just helpless vessels we use to drive the plot. They can rise up from the ink and become flesh and blood, just as an actor transforms into a make-believe identity spawned from the imagination of a screenwriter. Our characters aren't us. We aren't interesting enough for that. They are their own individual creatures sent to charm, seduce, intrigue, warm, inspire and even anger. Just like regular humans.


  1. I love your idea of writing letters to yourself penned by your characters. It makes me want to write a letter to myself right now. My MC is probably too busy to write me a letter though ;)

  2. Rachel, I wish I could take credit for the idea! I got that idea from a published authoress who encourages character-driven plot. I'm sorry I just noticed your comment too. I'm still getting the hang of the blogging machine. Thank you so much for following. :)



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