Do tell us what you're writing about - i.e. your current work in progress. If you have a finished book and a cover to share, please do that on the "Our Published Novels" thread, even if it isn't a novel! (Please, no jpegs here.)
I'm picking up where I left off 3 years ago (before life got in the way). Back then, I began developing a story about three estranged adult siblings returning to their southern roots to bury their father and in the process, uncover shocking secrets surrounding their mother's disappearance 25 years earlier and their father's possible involvement. Back then it was just an idea. But along the way I began to see it as a novel and would like to move forward with that goal. This will be my first novel.
It's still in the development stage and I'm a bit overwhelmed. I'm having a rough time "feeling" my characters and determining who the MC should be. I'm also trying to put the plot together and research various things. Every time I start I feel stumped, like I don't know what I should be doing first. A few years ago before life got super hectic, I wrote out a few scenes for some of my characters. Sometimes putting them in a scene first helps me determine who they should become. Back then I "felt" my characters. But lately, since I've picked up the story again, I'm excited about working on the story but the characters are being very silent.
Can anyone offer advice on this as well as what I should be concentrating on first? Thanks!!
Sounds to me like the core problem is this: "determining who the MC should be." Without a point of view, it's hard to write a story, and harder yet to feel your characters and draw them well enough that they can come alive on their own. I'm guessing that your three-year hiatus changed you in some way(s), so that you're struggling to "feel" the same characters through a different self. As well, since this is your first novel, you've not yet developed a writing system that helps you work around the ups and downs that come with the process.
Two ways to tackle this come to mind:
(1) As a warmup exercise (not necessarily a recast of your original idea), pick one character and write a scene in first-person voice. In other words, put yourself into the story directly -- pretend it's all happening to YOU -- and draw from your own thoughts, feelings, and observations. This will probably either suck you in or throw up walls of resistance that will wake up the back of your mind and open your eyes to another, better approach.
(2) Skip characters altogether for the moment, save for their placeholding value, and concentrate solely on plot. Map out the whole story. From your nutshell description, it's a complicated one -- at least 3 characters, big personal crises and family complexities, a mystery, and a cultural conflict driver (those deep Southern roots!). You've got LOTS of backstory to figure out and versimilitude logistics to untangle, plus the associated research. These are all left-brain tasks, but they have to be done in order to compose a real book, so you might as well roll up your sleeves and do them. In the process your right brain will surely sit up and take notice, and you'll start perceiving your characters in a particular light, especially as you work out how to write the same situation(s) from three different angles.
No matter what system you use, there are elemental decisions to make. I recommend reading Orson Scott Card's "Characters and Viewpoint." He clearly describes four different story structures and how they affect character presentation and involvement. This might help you grasp what you want to do, thereby allowing your characters to form. It might be that you've got too many variables mixing and matching so that you can't pin down the essentials. Getting a handle on just one of them will probably launch you out of the starting gate.
Whenever I have taken one of my novels through as many drafts as I can until I can think of absolutely nothing more to change or develop in it, I break out my copy of Peter Maas's "Writing the Breakthrough Novel," and start in again.
Thanks Carolyn and Simone for the suggestions. I picked up "Characters and Viewpoint." Will add Masss's book to my list as well. I also ordered "Writing Your First Novel" by Laura Whitcomb and Ann Rittenberg.
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