I tend to come up with lots of story ideas. Well, maybe not a lot, but I’ve come up with quite a few. I write them down and file them away so I don’t lose them, but most of them don’t go much farther than that. But a couple stick in my brain, I keep thinking about them. Those are the ones I tend to actually try to work on and turn into a story.
One of those stories is about a drunk named Billy. I know who he is and what he does, I even have an idea of what will happen to him, but I found when I sat down to write his story, I’d end up unmotivated very quickly. Once I stopped typing in the middle of a sentence and didn’t return to the story for months. But my brain wouldn’t let it go. I kept thinking about his story. I just couldn’t write it.
One day several months ago, I was poking around the internet (dangerous, I know, but without risk there is no reward) I discovered a website for the Long Ridge Writers Group. Years and years ago, I submitted a story to this group to see if they would accept me into their program. I was accepted, but I didn’t have the money to actually participate at the time.
(If you’re curious, I put the story I submitted into a previous blog post. You can read it here.)
Well, I discovered the Long Ridge Writers Group’s website has a lot of free resources available. One thing that I found was about writing a solid back story for your characters. There was also a worksheet to use if you wanted help writing your characters back story. I knew immediately I needed to use that worksheet for Billy the drunk. It wasn’t enough to know what Billy was doing, I had to why he was doing it, even if that wasn’t part of the story.
I had a general idea of the history of Billy, but filling out that worksheet really made me think. What was Billy’s father like? His mother? What was high school like for him? Who were his friends? His enemies? Who influences Billy’s life the most, and why? Does Billy make sense as a person? Yes, people are often inconsistent and do things that surprise those that know them, but everyone has motives, reasons they do what they do.
The trick (one trick) for a writer is to know all of those motives for all of their characters, at least the main characters. If you don’t know where your characters come from, how will you know how they will react to whatever situation you throw them into? How will your character stay consistent throughout the story? This doesn’t mean they can’t change or grow, but those changes need to make sense for the character. If your character is a megalomaniac and evil, and all of a sudden they do something nice for someone, there has to be reason. It can’t just be to move the story in the direction you want it to go, it has to make sense for the character.
Filling out that worksheet for Billy really opened up doors in my brain. I went back to the story, and just about doubled what I had written in a few days. The story isn’t finished yet, but I’m a lot closer, and I don’t get depressed at the thought of actually writing it.
Looking for more information about well written characters? This post by C.T. Westing discusses the topic much better than I ever could, and has a ton of useful information.
Well, in part to hopefully further motivate me to continue writing Billy’s story, I’ll include the beginning of the story here:
Billy was drunk. Billy knew he was drunk. He knew this because he was awake, and his head was merely throbbing instead of the skull splitting gut wrenching pain he felt when he was awake and hung over. He lifted his head and looked around him blearily, and realized he was still at The Lucky Horseshoe.
“You gonna make it home it ok, Billy?”
Billy looked around. He thought the voice was familiar, but he couldn’t place a name to it. It was hard to see, as all the tables around his had the chairs flipped up on top of them.
“Billy? You ok?”
There she was, at the bar, wiping down a glass. Billy couldn’t see her too well, but she had dark hair, so it must be Mary.
“Oy. Mary. Yep. Well, I could make it home, if’n I had a home to go home to. But dun worry. I’ll make it to my bed jes fine.”
“Oh Billy. I know you had a rough time of it, but all this drinking has got to stop.”
“Hah! You’d expect a pastor and a sheriff to give that speech, but when the owner of your favorite drinkin’ hole tells you to stop giving her your money, yur’ better listen! Hah!”
Billy kept chuckling, but he couldn’t understand why Mary wasn’t laughing. That was funny.
“Billy, you stopped giving me your money two weeks ago. Your tabs run up over five hundred dollars. I was hoping you’d be coming out of this by now. I can’t keep doing this forever, ya know.”
Billy stopped chuckling and tried to think. “But…” It was so hard to remember. Two weeks ago…what day was today again? “Hold on Mary … I, uh… I’m sorry. I dinn’t realize. Hold on…” Billy fumbled in his pocket for his wallet, only dropping it twice before getting it to the table. He peering inside, shuffling through receipts and business cards. “Hah! Here we go!”
Billy stood up and shuffled to the bar. He held out a crumpled bill to Mary. “I’m sure it’s not much, but I’ll get ya what I owe ya, Mary.”
Mary straightened out the bill. It was five dollars. “Is this all you have right now, Billy?”
Mary shook her head sadly and handed the five back to him. “Keep it Billy. Use it to buy some real food tomorrow. But Billy, don’t come back until you’ve cleaned yourself up and can control yourself, you hear me?”
“Alright Mary. If you say so.” Billy shuffled toward the door. He opened it, and started out into the night.
Billy stopped and looked back.
“I’m serious. You show up here tomorrow, I’ll have Johnny throw you out if I have to.”
Billy shrugged, and stumbled out into the street.
Hope you liked it! Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.