Follow Your Characters
Written by Sarah M Jasat
In my feedback to a piece a friend recently shared with me, I had only one piece of advice: follow those characters.
It may sound a little film noir, but it’s a technique that has worked for me time and time again. When you start writing you often need to discover the story. Much of the time you don’t know what’s coming next or how things will end, and that’s absolutely fine (some may even say this is essential – if you’re not surprised, how are you going to surprise the reader?)
We’ve all found ourselves having finished our last sentence, staring at the screen and wondering what happened to the ideas that were overflowing from your mind just a few minutes ago?
It can feel beyond daunting to realise you don’t know what happens next, but in the last few years and in my last few stories I’ve realised that I don’t have to know.
I don’t have to know what happens next.
I don’t need to know what a story is about.
I don’t need to know how it ends.
It’s liberating! The story exists, you don’t need to create it, you just need to discover it.
And the best way to discover it is by donning your detective hat and holding the magnifying glass up to your eye. Slow down and pay attention. Watch your characters. See where they go and what they do. Imagine yourself in the room with them. How are they standing? What does their body language tell you? What are they wearing? (Or not wearing? Oh my!)
In this way you can gather information about your characters and the story but you also move your story forward.
It may take a little practice… At first I found the idea odd as unlike some of the Koyal writers (Nabeela, I’m looking at you!) I had a hard time thinking of my characters as ‘real’ people with their own personalities. But over time I was able to let this go and the more I tried this technique the more I found it worked.
So try this next time you’re struggling with ‘what happens next’. Unleash your inner Sherlock Holmes, pay attention and follow those characters right into the heart of the story.