Sometime writing’s a matter of brain mode. Actually, most of the time. But we can’t all afford to live in perpetual writing mode. So how do you go get into story writing mode?
Here’s a few tips I’ve learned for delving into the writing hole.
Story Writing Mode
Getting into a character’s mindset is hard, even harder than coming up with something to write. You don’t want to bring your own current emotional state into the character’s life, nor do you want to be distant from the character’s emotions. It’s a careful balance of your feelings and the story’s emotional journey. Getting into story mode means being ready to know how your characters are feeling. And being prepared to write that into the story.
And the easiest way for me to zone into my characters’ emotions is music.
I’m a music person. Soundtracks, pop artists, hymns, the Piano Guys, I can listen to pretty much every genre. I listen to music while I do homework, while working, and while writing.
Sometimes, I turn on music just to get into writing mode. I have two playlists – a no-words playlist and a character playlist.
Music helps me identify the emotional drive of my characters. I don’t intentionally listen for songs to find one that matches a character. But if I’m driving around, sitting in the mall, and I hear a song that matches, I scribble down whatever lyrics I heard. Then I google the lyrics and find the song’s name. On to iTunes, and that song goes in my characters lists.
Before I sit down to write, I’ll listen to a few of these songs. Sometimes I listen to these songs while I’m cleaning or exercising. And when I hear that song, I’m reminded of what my characters are dealing with emotionally.
Some of my favorite songs seem to match my characters perfectly:
Demons – Imagine Dragons.
I love how this song deals with inner turmoil and the masks we wear. I first heard this song at least 5 years ago, and I cried. It’s heartbreaking, while rich with meaning.
So they dug your grave
And the masquerade
Will come calling out
At the mess you made
I knew these words fit my character Dieter. He’s torn between duty, love, family and his own feelings. And every time I hear this song, I’m reminded of Dieter’s nightmares.
Story of my Life – One Direction
I’ve gotten alot of ribbing for applying One Direction lyrics to my nearly medieval characters.
Written on these walls are
The colors that I can’t change
Leave my heart open
But it stays right here in its cage
This song is incredibly emotional; it feels as though something precious is missing. A lost search. A place to call home. A place to belong.
And that’s my character Edward. He’s surrounded by people, but doesn’t have family. He’s driven to share his dreams with someone, but can’t seem to carve his own place in the world. He wants to have his own story, not someone else’s. And that desire to create a future for himself drives his decisions.
Start a Riot – Banners
I’ve never heard any other music by Banners, but I only needed to hear this song once. It grabbed me, both words and music.
I will march down an empty street like a ship into the storm
No surrender, no retreat.
I will burn this city down for a diamond in the dust
I will keep you safe and sound when there’s no one left to trust
Will you take my hand?
We can make our stand
This song fits one of my favorite characters incredibly well. His entire life motto is summed up by these verses, driving every decision. It’s exactly who he is. What’s cool, is I played this song for a friend, and she knew instantly what character went with this song.
Sometimes, I worry that sharing the music behind the characters might spoil the story 🙂
Pairing music and characters is fun and enriching. It helps add depth to your characters, and if when unsure how to write an emotional scene, I like to listen to that character’s music. Listening to music nearly always helps me to know what to write next and where to take the characters.
I’ve also had so much fun pairing music with characters from other books. I’ll hear a song, and immediately think of books it fits with. It’s almost an obsession. Almost.
There’s nothing like falling into another story to help you write your own. If you’re feeling lost in your book, lacking motivation or ideas, read another book. It’s most helpful if it’s the same genre or style.
This is a tricky suggestion, because it can be dangerous. You might get discouraged or frustrated with your own ideas. I try not to think about my book when I read and shut down any form of comparison.
Instead, I just read. That way I soak in the writing style, the story, and the plot. I just enjoy it.
And when I’m done, completely done, I sit back. I think through what was different – POV, target age, value system. I try to pinpoint what moved me – the character’s emotional arc.
I mentally make lists of what I won’t do. How our two stories will be different. The differences in our characters motivation.
Then I go back to my own project.
Now there’s no scientific study backing my method. But it helps clear my brain and restock ideas.
If your story writing seems to have reached a standstill, work on something else. Preferably writing, but anything creative should do.
I blog. Paint. Sketch. Sometime I’ll even work on other book ideas.
It’s important to stay creative. Don’t be discouraged that you can’t get into story writing mode.
Be consistently creative, and it will happen.
On the other side, don’t try to force it too much.
I’ve read a lot of author’s advice and their universal advice seems to be, Write Every Day.
I do try to write every day. But I know it’s not going to happen. Even if I could write every day, I can’t write on the same project. Instead, I have another mantra –
Imagine something. Scribble down rhyming words. Doodle.
Force your brain to be independent and creative. And story writing will come easier.
This may sound strange, but Pinterest can be incredibly helpful to get back into writing mode. Specifically, starting a story board.
Pinterest is a great way to ‘picture’ your characters. Start a board, pin anything related to your characters.
Pictures, quotes, anything aesthetically related to your characters.
If I’m feeling lost in details or trying to find the words to keep a story moving, being able to see my characters can stir my creativity.
I have several Pinterest boards related to writing. One board for anything remotely related to story writing. I pin all sorts of character inspired images on there. It doesn’t even have to be related to my current Work in Progress. Anything I think *might* be useful later.
I also have specific boards dedicated to each individual character and one board for the overall story.
Knowing your character’s style, exploring their styles, lets you know them on another level entirely. It’s tactile and feels super hands on. I’m not a tactile learner, so I rarely Pinterest my characters. In fact, I only started working on character boards throughout the editing process. As I dug into all the tactile details I often overlooked, I looked to Pinterest for inspiration. Exploring these details lets me balance emotions and daily life for my characters. It helped ground my characters in real life material.
Story Writing Mood Isn’t Everything
It’s great to write when you’re feeling like your characters. I’ve jumped out of bed at 5am to write something for a specific character. I’ve paused in the middle of the day to write a scene from a character’s perspective. I’ve jumped for joy when I find a character’s theme song.
But that doesn’t always happen. You can’t force yourself to write anything more. Sentences are falling apart, you can’t find a way to switch chapters or perspective. It feels like you’ve reached a dead end.
If word creativity isn’t happening for you, try working on the plot. Invest in backstory or world building. Draw family trees, brainstorm about your characters favorite foods.
When writing doesn’t seem to be working, work on just knowing your story. Practically know it better than you know yourself. And the writing will come to you.
Last summer I was too busy to write. I finished work each day wiped out, unable to creatively invest in new scenes. Instead, I began brainstorming about my fictional worlds religion. I’d scribble down ideas in my notebook.
At the end of the summer, I had nothing new written. But I had pages of ideas for world building. And when I dug into writing in the fall, I was able to incorporate my new ideas. The religion became a major plot point, spurring the entire story forward.
Are you in a story writing mode? Go write! Is story mode evasive? Go write, anyway! But seriously, I hope you’re feeling inspired to write after reading all this. But if not, here’s some other resources to help you on your writing journey.
Practical tips about writing, with some ideas about crafting character’s emotion from writing screen plays.
How do you get into your character’s moods? Do you use some of the same methods as me? Or other ideas? Share your ideas in the comments!