Literary Constipation: Thoughts & Musings

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There are many reasons for literary constipation and recently, I find that my biggest health problem in writing is finding characters that I care about. If you are character-oriented like me, you probably want the same thing as me as well: unique, interesting and multidimensional characters that move the story forward in an organic, masterful way. The process of creating such a character may involve superfluous world-building, extensive one-on-one time with the superstar of your novel, and/or extravagant charting of your character’s whole person on a two-dimensional page. In short, it’s the beginning of a love-hate relationship that brings out the best of us and the worst of us.

For me, at times a story inevitably strays and withers and I find it impossible to continue. Perhaps it is a matter of discipline, but how do you ride a dead horse through the finish line? Even if you manage to push, drag its lifeless corpse across, it will still be dead. It is such a painful process to force yourself to write simply for the sake of writing and finishing a project–but really, who wants to give up on every project they’ve started? That naturally says something about you, just like every bottle you don’t happen to recycle. But it’s so hopelessly mechanistic and tedious and draining that I nearly always end up hating what I love to do: which is writing.

Fortunately, I have discovered a way to resolve this conundrum. I discovered that you simply have to find characters you care about. For my last project, I created a love-interest for my protagonist to serve as a contrast and semi-foil to his personality–but ultimately I realized that I had to kill her because she wasn’t a character–she was merely a fictional tool. (I’m sorry, Juna. You were bad-ass and I respected you deeply. But you had to go.)

What did I mean by finding characters you care about? I started thinking long and hard about that…and then I found my answer in the current short story I am working on. I didn’t find my characters this time…nor did I create them. They found me.

If you’re new to this writer’s mysticism, it simply means that the characters have emerged from a deeply intuitively level, and that they are aspects of your self, or aspects of what you love, what you hate, what you idealize, what you condemn. They are aspects of you that you have always been familiar with, or perhaps have never known. They are a natural occurrence, and their existence is not forced, nor is it deliberately crafted–they just are. They have always been there, and all you had to do was to discover them and become aware of them. You touch their spirit and invite them into your fictional universe, giving them a physical body so they can do their thing, so that they can shape their own world.

That’s how I found my story this time around. I didn’t do any planning–no worldbuildling, no character sketches, and no plot points. It amazed me that the story just poured out of me as I allowed my characters to do their thing. They felt what they felt and they did what they needed to do. They introduced me to their family members, their abilities and their quirks. They introduced me to their world, and I simply put them into words.

This time around…the story just sort of happened. I had had a few experiences like that but never as powerful as this one. I had never felt so attached to my characters before–and all I could think about all day was what was going to happen to them–what was going to happen next. It’s like they’re alive–and they’re talking to me.

And ultimately, I realized that how much alike we are–and that they are my creation and also a reflection of my existence.