Oooh the horror of a blank page… even without writers block the creative soul can become overwhelmed with where and how to start. And it’s not just about cultivating the idea. Most of us create because we want to connect and build a supportive community.
When I get an idea, I try to get a feel for how I want to communicate it. With my art, I tend to let go and see where the idea takes me, but I find it difficult to do that with my writing. Instead, I struggle to control my words and in my fiction work this tends to stifle my characters and closes any opportunity for their growth. Why? Because I often fail to create a full back story for my characters. It is so obvious, yet something I’ve never really done. I’ve thought about what they wear and their favorite things, but I’ve never thought about their beliefs and values, and isn’t that the very thing that dictates how we handle certain situations?
A fun exercise we recently did in my screenwriting class brought the idea of motivations and actions home. Each of us brought in a news article to share with the group. We organized our articles into a story with a beginning, middle and end and fully discussed the motivations of the main character. We started to throw out questions about their state of mind, asking each other what we thought the protagonist’s home life and childhood were like. We were investigating the things that make us human and allowing our imaginations to fill in any number of possibilities. I found it so inspiring!
What was scary to me, is that I realized I had become extremely desensitized to the “news”. I had that feeling a few years ago when I’d watch the news reports about the flooding in Nashville and found myself detached from the reports even though I could see it all around me. Part of it was shock, but I also think that I’m often so busy that I forget that the story doesn’t end when the reporting segment does. We can compartmentalize the news as happening to someone else and yet watch a ripped from the headlines television show or movie and feel connected.
I loved this assignment because it reminded me that we are surrounded by inspiration for stories, songs and screenplays. We are truly a sum of all our parts and layers of experiences and this is the foundation of character development… and not just on the page!