I’m starting the alpha draft for a new book*, and one of the first things I do as a character pops into my head is search Google Images for someone who looks like them. There’s no “OK, that was a girl, now I need a boy” or “That one had black hair so this one should have blond hair”. I just start writing, and people show up in my brain and talk to each other.
Imagine my amusement last week when I finished the first few thousand words…and realized I’ve created a cast primarily of young women. At first I thought, “Dangit, maybe I should make a few changes.” The impulse came from my current read: The Maze Runner. There’s a grand total of one female character in that book (so far…I’m not sure if that changes), and it just feels weird. I thought my own manuscript might make more sense if I adjusted the numbers, so to speak.
That’s when I ran into a problem. I write like an improv actor, always asking, “Yes, and?” as I work through initial ideas. If I get all wibbly-wobbly about my casting decisions, my “Yes, and?” changes into “Well, I dunno…” and nothing ever gets written. Once I tried to change my female characters into dudes, things didn’t go very well. I learned that once a person comes to life in my head, the only way to adjust it is to kill them**.
My process makes for some interesting restrictions because I don’t let myself change things in the plot to make problems easier to solve. Of course, I’ll complain about it a lot down the road – just ask my critique partners – but for my writing, I really think this is the best way.
If you’ve been unsuccessfully trying to alter your writing style because someone told you what worked for them, don’t feel discouraged. We can’t all write the same way. Not everyone can be a pantser like Emily or a crazy outliner like Giles. You could spend your whole life trying to write like someone else.
Don’t write like someone else. Write like you.
Michelle writes snarky books about girls with superpowers.
*As a story monogamist who only gets one awesome idea at a time, I’m SO EXCITED to finish edits on the one manuscript and get started on something new. And yes, I call it an “alpha” draft. It sounds way cooler than “first draft.” “First draft” = psh. “Alpha draft” = yaaaassssss.
**And YA sci-fi/fantasy isn’t exactly Game of Thrones. I’d rather not kill every other person.