Writing is / can feel like a solitary adventure, going off to strange lands that you operate as a ghost in, exploring characters and rolling landscapes that you can only observe. The creative process is unique to everyone, and everyone experiences creative flow differently, but I’ve found this analogy of being a witness to the events, characters, or both to be commonly understood by creative writers. But from what angle, what side of things do you witness and build the narrative? This is where many people differ.
Which is where having a community of creators and storytellers becomes so important. As someone who rarely collaborates with others I can attest to how easy it is to make your work an island with a population of one: You. It can be tempting pull a Dickinson, hiding your work and creative perspective in the middle of a metaphorical ocean. No need for conches here, there will only be one source of thought or reflection. And while this sounds lonely, if, like myself, sharing your creative babies can be terrifying, it is ideal. But your work will never reach it’s full potential if you do things this way, because not only does another set of eyes on your work provide a whole new perspective when editing, it can show you that yours isn’t the only way that a story unfolds in the writing process.
When I was in high school I was fortunate enough to meet someone who I would come to know both as a life time friend and a creative powerhouse. Kaitlyn was (and still is) a child of the artistic side of the internet; she had already listened to the new podcast you were just hearing of, was working on some cool digital art and, yes, was already writing a visual novel. Always a bit afraid of the digital side of storytelling, it was as baffling as it was inspiring to see someone writing stories and making adobe movies or just playlists to go with them. We were also on much of the same wavelength for what we liked and what we wanted to make. For the first time in my life sharing what I was working on and walking through my endless plot “what if’s?” felt natural.
We were creative in much the same ways, but also had some wonderful differences that gave us something new to work off of. One of these was the how, the why of a plot. Now, living on an imaginary creative island up until this point I had thought there was only one way this process occurred. A thought, an idea, a “what if?” would drift to the surface, much like the many writing ideas that can be found on the subreddit r/writingprompts. What if we are the aliens? What if the objects in our homes have memories? What if humans later learned how to photosynthesize? And the exploratory questions would go from there, considering how humanity would interact with this kind of reality, and, if I was lucky or inspired enough, what kind of dramatic scene would come out of this kind of setting. This was often totally up to my imagination, it could be an opening sequence, a climactic moment, or occasionally the end of the whole affair. My job was to try and keep the momentum going, writing it out and writing forwards or backwards, whatever was necessary to fill in the rest of the story. Characters were secondary to all of this. Important, but a means of reaching those narrative moments that had made my spine tingle in the first place.
For Kaitlyn, plot was the secondary process, what came after to suit the characters in her head which were very, very much alive. She could tell you what kind of music each one of them listened to, what clothes they liked to wear, their most traumatic childhood memories… the list really could go on. Her stories were for her characters, while my characters were for my stories. And had I not ever had those many conversations with her, it would have taken me much longer to realize how little I knew the characters that I would want my eventual readers to connect with. Even more than this, it made me realize that there were likely many ways and different approaches to take to writing, which I wouldn’t be able to learn from if I continued to work quietly on my own.
I am still most comfortable working from an exciting plot twist, but I make much more of an effort to get to know my characters, writing lists of the most inane but interesting details and even taking personality tests on their behalf (the sorting quiz can be especially illuminating, thank you J.K. Rowling ). While I don’t think I will ever be quite as good in this regard as Kaitlyn, I can say that my writing has improved because of the added effort. My characters now take actions that make sense given their history, not just to move the plot from point A to B.
Since then I have built up the courage to share my work with other talented friends ranging from screenwriters to visual novel developers. Their different perspectives inspire me to grow in my own medium, while also helping me to get off the island of “when it’s good enough”. Even if you have been writing or working away for a decade, it’s never too late to build a community and grow some more for yourself. We create to express ourselves and connect with others, it makes sense that the process itself shouldn’t be an isolated one. If you haven’t found your community yet, we at Adventures in Storytelling would love to welcome you to ours. For those who have, let us know in the comments the best tips or ways of creating that your friends have taught you.