Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 13, 2014

Whiteout Conditions: I can’t see my characters

I’ve said before that I am struggling with bringing my characters to life on the page. Every time I think I’ve got it nailed, my beta readers shake their heads–they’re just not connecting with the character. But I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, so it’s frustrating.

My brain knows all the techniques I’m supposed to use to create that character-reader connection, but I just can’t seem to get it onto the page. Even more frustrating is that I used to think that character was what I did best. But I seem to have lost the knack, unable to find it amid the blizzard of other craft details I have to keep in mind.

Whiteout conditions: I can see no way ahead.

In the Little House books (I think), during one winter blizzard the family strung a rope between the house and barn so that they could find their way back and forth without getting lost in the storm. I needed a rope, a guide to help me find my way back to character.

So I went backward.

If it was true that I used to do character better than I do now, then older works might provide me with clues to the way forward. I dug out a short story I had written during my Masters degree, revised it, and gave it to my critique partners.

It worked. The character-reader connection bloomed.

So now I have my guide rope. I can look at that story and see what I did then that I don’t do now. More importantly, I now know I can do it. The answer to my problem is inside of me somewhere.

All I have to do is hang onto the rope until I get through the blizzard.

What about you? Have you ever “lost” a skill you thought you had nailed? How did you get it back?

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