Friday, March 12, 2010

Writing as an Art — Passing the Palette . . . and the Brush

We’ve created our character sketches in great detail. Our completed outline tells us exactly where our story begins, how it develops, and where it ends. Now all we have to do is get it on paper (or hard drive), and we have a book.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? If only it were that simple . . . but it isn’t, so let’s take a deeper look at this process.

How do we create scenes? We place one or more characters in a particular situation and allow him/her/them to react to it. We tell the character(s) what to say, what to see, what to hear, what to think, what to do, and how to do it. Scene’s done. Wow!

But it’s not working. The action is stilted, the dialogue’s stiff, nothing about it rings true, and even we don’t care what happens next. Why? Complete sentences, proper punctuation, and good verb choices should make this a great scene. Each character said and did just what we wanted them to say and do. So what happened?

More importantly, what didn’t happen? We didn’t allow the characters tell their own story. Instead, we put our words in their mouths, imposed our actions on theirs—we told our story. We painted our scene.

How do we fix it? We step back from the canvas (monitor), and pass the palette (keyboard) to our characters. Then we take it one step further—we give them the brush and let them paint the scene. In other words, we give our characters free reign to tell their stories without our interference. Sounds crazy? Perhaps. But it works every time.

What’s involved in implementing this change in perspective? First, we must know our characters and be as familiar with their personalities, peculiarities, and penchants as we are with out own. Then we start to write, and the difference begins. Because of what we know about them, we can type whatever our characters tell us without conscious consideration, letting the dictated words flow off the palette and onto the canvas. And when it’s finished, we’re in for a surprise. We may even be exclaiming, “Wow! Where did that come from?”

Linda Lane is about to release her second novel, a psychological drama entitled Treacherous Tango. She specializes in editing fiction and has edited two award-winning books. Visit her Web site-under-construction at


  1. Great advice, Linda. When I get stuck I "pass the palette" by asking my character how to get me out of trouble--then pass the journal. In the first person voice of my character, I write long hand until s/he is speaking freely. I not only get to know the character better, but s/he often solves plot problems that I didn't know how to handle! Am I speaking to my subconscious or actually talking to imaginary characters? Hmm, maybe I'd better go journal about that... ;)

  2. I've definitely had that "Wow!" moment. It's one of the best moments you can have as a writer. You're right, you have to let go and let your characters speak and act for themselves. (You may have to reign them in a bit, but that's another post!)


  3. LOL, Helen, I know what you mean about having to rein a character in. I had a secondary character in one book who threatened to take over the whole story. I stopped the writing for a day or so to decide if that character needed to be the central character or not, that's how strong he came on.

  4. Hmm...sounds like writers need to have split personalities or take a course in acting. At any rate, it's nice to know that when I'm talking to myself and acting like someone else, I'm not alone.

  5. Every once in a while, I read something from eons ago and kind of wow myself. Wish that happened more often!

    Good post, Linda, and ties in nicely with the prior one. Thanks.



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