Realigning with Characters’ Feelings

I’ve been trying to jump back into writing my story, and in so doing, I’ve had to come back to a method that I’ve employed time and time again. I thought maybe, for the sake of other writers who are in the same sort of situation, I should share some advice:

If you think you can jump back into your story after a length of absence, and pick it up right where you left off, don’t. You may be able to. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that you think you remember all that your characters have been through, but you don’t. You remember the facts, the events, the flat progression.

You don’t remember your characters’ feelings.

If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is go back and reread all of your work thus far to give yourself a clue. It’s too time-consuming. You’ll be tempted to go back and do revisions instead of writing new material. Your writing style has changed since then, and you can’t match it.

My solution?

Take a piece of paper and a pen, and start jotting down the key points of what your characters have been through recently, in chronological order. If you’re totally clueless, you could try starting at the beginning. But if you were in the middle of writing a building-block scene or a significant event, start with the beginning of that event. For instance, I left off 4-5 days into a weeklong party in my story—a party which will have a rather drastic culmination. So I glanced over my chapter titles, and skim-scrolled down my story document from the first party chapter, and began writing bullet points of emotion-driving moments that stuck out as changes from the characters’ previous thoughts or actions.

In other words, I’m tracking character development through the most recent progression of events.

You don’t have to write down things like “he was angry” or “she was jealous,” but your bullet points should bring such things to mind when you see them. Like, “she saw him kissing another girl” brings to mind a bunch of emotions the character should be feeling (i.e. jealousy, loss, a sense of urgency to fix it, etc.).

The purpose of the bullet points is to bring your own emotional scale into line with that of your characters. You felt with them once. You need to feel with them again. If you saw your love interest kissing a girl who was a complete stranger at a party, you would feel ___. If someone offered a pleasant distraction from your girlfriend making out with another guy, you would be ___ if she condemned you for accepting it.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s not enough to jump back into the plotline events. You have to realign yourself so you can breathe in sync with your characters. Only then can you feel out what needs to happen next to move things along.

Hope that helps you as much as it helped me.

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