There’s a lovely group of people who listen to my woes and comfort me every month, and this month I have the honor of giving back by co-hosting the lovely Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If you don’t know about this group or are relatively new, here’s how it works:
- Click on the picture
- Sign up
- Post a post every first Wednesday about your struggles as a writer, your triumphs as an author, and any encouragement you have to give others. (prompts are provided, most times.)
- Go and read about other’s struggles and comment with support!
When I was fourteen years old, I had a dream. To this day the only thing I can remember about the dream was that there was a sorcerer and a swordsman, and the swordsman ran the sorcerer through with his sword. He caught the dying sorcerer, and the sorcerer said to him, “You never could save me.”
That’s how two of the main characters of the Kurylian Saga were born. Others came afterward, but Yumil and Dirk were the ones who stuck around the most. I drew comics of them, I wrote short stories to myself. I even considered making a full-blown manga out of their adventure.
In the end, I settled on a book, and with the encouragement of my then-boyfriend, in 2013, I wrote the first draft of the Kurylian saga. The characters were wonky, the settings were forgettable, and the action was… well… inactive. I met my mentor, Chris Votey, and began work on the second draft. And then the third. And then I put it away for almost a full year, while I was homeless and running around my town trying to get my feet back under me.
Most recently, I’ve been struggling with a feeling of dejection. That the story I was telling was either not good enough, or that I, as a writer, didn’t have the skill to tell it. I absolutely drove myself mad over it to the point where I considered whether or not to scrap the book entirely and just move on.
I tried to do just that. I opened rough draft after rough draft. I tried different genres. I tried everything. But I always came back to Dirk and Yumil. The two of them needed their story told, and my fourteen-year-old-self was still in love with the way their world worked.
So I went to Chris and I asked him for help. As always, he gave me lovely lessons on world building, and how to use what I was learning in college in my writing. Then he set me the challenge of writing short fiction. Just real quick 500-750 word drabbles centered around one of the other characters in the story named Eamon.
Doing this unlocked something in me, and I found myself starting to get excited about the book again.
However, those doubts started niggling again. I couldn’t possibly be writing this right. I was obviously doing something wrong. Why was Eamon acting this way, when I had thought she was a more simple character?!
Chris came to me again and offered me the chance to analyze Dirk and Eamon, to see how they really ticked. I jumped on it, thinking that, as always, Chris must have some kind of reasoning behind it. And to be honest, I’m not the greatest at Character Profiling. Or world building. Or prose. Or, well you get the drift.
The first thing we did was sit down over voice chat, and he started asking me questions. I was instructed to answer the question three times. Once for Dirk, Once for Eamon, and Once for myself. I recognized the questions as being similar to an MBTI test I took and abandoned halfway through a long time ago.
For those who don’t know, MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is a psychological profiling system. It’s become very fashionable lately to know what your MBTI is on Tumblr, so I’ve kind of been rolling my eyes at it as any kind of diagnostic tool. However, Chris is on the verge of something wonderful, so I went along with it.
Going through the questions made me think about things I’d never considered before. Was Eamon organized? Did Dirk like being in the center of crowds? Did either of them enjoy spending time outdoors or indoors more? The questions were thorough and difficult to answer.
Over the course of the questions, however, the two of them started to form more solidly in my head. These were real people I was talking about suddenly. Not characters in my mind, but people I knew more intimately (apparently) than I knew myself!
It got me to thinking, however, about the characters and how they were and what they were doing. I started asking myself questions about my other characters, like Yumil and Jorgan and Anelace. Were any of them wallflowers? Did any of them answer emails promptly? It made me feel more connected to the story, which suddenly made me want to write more on this behemoth that had already taken up four years of my life.
And then, a few days later, Chris said he had the results. And when we went over them, something amazing happened. It was more than just a confirmation of who the characters were. It was like Chris was reading to me a manual on the characters that I had dreamt up, loved, and written for years. They came alive on the paper, and their actions suddenly made SENSE.
Dirk adopted Jorgan because his emotions thrive on love and care, and children are love and care incarnate. Eamon feels pressure to be like her father because it’s difficult for her to be original because of her personality. Everything made sense. I wasn’t crazy. These characters really were like real live people.
More than anything, by getting to know these characters, by learning how they think, how they feel, and what their rich inner lives were like, I knew that I was doing the right thing. That I was the writer to tell their story. After all, if I could make a complex character that fit into a personality profile used by psychiatrists, how could I possibly be doing my story injustice? I hadn’t known that these profiles existed when I made Dirk. So I wasn’t copying.
I had known Chris was doing research on personality typing for character creation, and he had mentioned MBTI types as well as astrology. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if his research for that project was what he used to help me. He confirmed it, of course, when I asked him. I felt so privileged that he would share such a thing with me.
I was so giddy with elation I rushed out of our voice chat, leaving poor Chris behind, just to write all of this down. So let me tell you, fellow writers. If you are lacking motivation, or if you feel like you aren’t good enough… Sit down with your characters. Get to know them. Learn their inner lives. Do these things, and you’ll find that you ARE a writer, you are a good one, and you can do this.
After all, they chose you to tell their story.
So get out there, and tell it.