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  • Leslie Tourish

Write to Know What You’re Writing About

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

For the past two days, I’ve struggled to write a new chapter for my book on the twins, Sienna and Rachel. It’s been frustrating, because I can see a new scene in my mind, unfolding like a movie, but it’s often skimpy on details. It's a challenging process, but as I focus on what the characters see, do, and feel, the details and dialogue will slowly, magically appear.

There’s a private logic to each character’s actions, dictated by their worldview. So I can ask: what makes sense for this character from their point of view? I imagine the physical setting while getting into the character’s head and then I listen to their inner monologue.

A pivotal scene at the end of the chapter involves one character convincing the other to do something against her better judgment. Since I already knew the goal for the scene, I had to get into Rachel and Sienna’s heads to figure out how to do it. What did each sister want? What scared the socks off her? What was her blind spot?

Perspective is subjective for humans. If you crave objectivity, best stick to math and absolute numbers where you can solve for x. Humans are nothing but gray areas. Each character’s private logic applies in every scene. Readers are smart: they’ll know when something goes against a character’s nature.

So today as I went into the Rachel’s mind, I tried to see her fears and secret hopes. Then I did the same with Sienna. Each detail that I discovered in this process opened up a deeper, more complex and complete understanding of the character and her world. And that helped me better understand their unique points of view, which helped illuminate their conflicting goals.

Just because a character seeks a goal, and maybe even achieves that goal, that doesn’t mean it’s what they truly need, because they have a blind spot. And what are blind spots? Areas for growth.

Even though most characters would rather go through hell than face their own blind spots, as writers we have to follow them through that fiery place to see what they’re made of. And see how they emerge transformed on the other side.

And that’s when we figure out what we’re writing about.

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