Writing Advice: Getting to Know Your Characters


Roadblocks happen to every writer. You may be writing solidly for several weeks and then suddenly find yourself stalled, not knowing which scene to cover next, or no longer knowing what’s going on in your own characters’ heads. Or you may come across a particularly difficult scene that gives you so much trouble you just want to stop writing. These roadblocks are pretty common, and I’ve found that it helps to know some ways to get around them and get back to writing.

Back before I took my hiatus from writing, I found myself faced with one of these roadblocks. My characters no longer felt fresh or exciting, and I simply didn’t know what to write next. Then I discovered a possible solution while listening to an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast. In an episode called Pre-writing, the podcast hosts discussed writing a first-person narrative from the point of view of one of your characters. You could tell their backstory, write a scene from only their point of view, or write a filler scene that readers may never get to see. The goal is to get you out of a writing funk and maybe give you some insight into your characters.

I recently came across a quote from author Marie Lu in a National Novel Writing Month pep talk that mentioned the same kind of exercise. In discussing pushing through tough periods of writing, Marie said, “Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going.”

This is exactly what I did when I hit my own writing roadblock. I’m currently writing about a group of supernatural humans, so I took the leader of that group and wrote his backstory. Not only did it offer me new insight into his character and the group as a whole, it was also incredibly fun to dive into his past. It was also freeing to write something that didn’t really “matter.” That is, there was no pressure to create something perfect for a final story.

These kinds of writing exercises can be helpful precisely because they may not end up in your finished product. You’re writing a first draft, and these exercises can be treated as “missing scenes” or as just side-projects that you’re working on to clear out your writer’s block. They never have to see the light of day if you don’t want them to. They can be for your eyes only, and just to help you with your writing process.

I hope this helps, and I hope that you try out some pre-writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan