Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #1: Greenrooming

Put your characters to work for you by taking them outside of your story.

Put your characters to work for you by taking them outside of your story.

If you’re feeling stuck in your novel or if you feel your characters are lacking a little zip, here’s a technique I can recommend based on personal experience.  

Greenrooming Is Like The Office Party Where Nobody Gets Fired

Have you ever had one of those jobs where you work side-by-side with your fellow drones day in and day out without ever really getting to know anyone, and then one holiday party and three drinks later, you find out Greg from accounting is a raging party animal who loves performing Miley Cyrus songs for karaoke?

Greenrooming is like an office holiday party. Everyone’s off the clock and letting their hair down, but Greenrooming is even better than an actual office party, because your character won’t get fired for saying or doing something inappropriate. 

What happens in the Green Room stays in the Green Room.

Greenrooming: Your Characters Outside of the Story

Have you ever interacted with your characters outside of your story?

I call the technique Greenrooming, named after “the green room” on talk shows where guests wait to be called on stage. It’s a place where you can meet your characters on neutral ground where they’re not acting or suspicious that you’ll throw a plot twist at them. 

The green room could be any space where your characters are momentarily out of the spotlight. Perhaps you’d like to put one of your characters in a therapy session, or maybe you’d like to sit down a couple of your characters for relationship counseling—or maybe three of them if they’re tangled in a love triangle!

Maybe you want to hypnotize them or take them to a psychic. Maybe you want to waterboard them.

No. Let’s keep it friendly. 

Once you have them in the green room, you have an opportunity to have a little chat or interview them. Pour them a glass of bubbly and help them relax. After all, you’ve really been putting them through the wringer in your novel. They deserve a little break.

Then once everyone’s relaxed, start asking probing questions that help you uncover more insights into their natures, their fears, their motivations. Let them answer you in the Green Room, outside of the story, but still in character. 

Greenrooming Is About Liberation, Not Creating a New Scene

Here I want to emphasize: Greenrooming isn’t moving your character from one cage and putting them in another.  

The primary advantage of this Greenrooming exercise is to liberate your character. We are freeing your character from expectations and limitations. We are freeing your imagination from your outline and your ‘stuckness’, if only for a few minutes. You’re now dealing with your characters free of the constraints of story threads and plot lines. In Greenrooming, your characters are on an equal footing with you. 

Not What You Think: What Your Character Says or Does

Greenrooming isn’t another opportunity for you to write what you think your character would say or do. You observe the character and let the character act according to her/his nature. 

Too often we think of our character from in-story perspectives. In other words, we observe characters from the perspective of other characters. Greenrooming removes that funhouse-mirror situation so that we have a direct connection with the character, without the limiting filters of other character perspectives.

Greenrooming Lets You Get to Know Your Character for Who They Are and Not Just What They Do In the Story

How does this character make you feel when you’re alone with him or her? Not sure? Then you need to get to know that character better.

Instead of approaching the character as a necessary function of your story, you are now engaging that character as a fully formed entity. 

This is a safe space, remember, outside of the story. Whatever this character says or does in the Green Room doesn’t have to change a single word in your storybut it might, if you play your cards right.

Will they be honest with you? How will you know?

You want something from this character, and you’ve got to earn her or his respect first.

For The Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives, I really wanted to spend some quality time with my antagonist, Perjos, the world’s greatest mind magician. I used my Greenrooming time (visualized as an actual changing room backstage at a theatre, complete with lighted mirrors, props and bizarre theatrical garb stuffed in old trunks) to interview my character.

I tried to be sincere in my compliments, thoughtful in my questions, and very aware not to look into his eyes for too long.

I discovered why he dislikes everyone, and—more importantly—why he distrusts everyone. He told me what keeps him motivated even when he’s feeling pessimistic. I learned his attitude towards other characters and several secrets that he was keeping about them.

Questions for Your Character in the Green Room

What should you ask your characters in the green room?

It can be anything, really. Perhaps you have a specific challenge you’re trying to resolve, and you think they hold the key. Ask them about it. Here are some sample questions to get you started, but I’m sure you have your own.

  • Did your character have any odd requests for the caterer in the green room? (Only green M&Ms or sixteen unscented prayer votives, unlit, for example.)
  • What does your character think of your story? What’s his/her favorite part? Least favorite?
  • Which characters in your story does this character like the best? Dislike?
  • What does your character think your book should be called?
  • How would your character describe your book to someone else (in an elevator pitch)?
  • Does your character have recurring dreams?
  • What is your character’s earliest memory?
  • Does your character believe in God or the afterlife?
  • Has your character ever cheated on a partner?
  • What’s the most expensive thing your character stole and why?
  • What’s your character’s favorite book, movie, or song?
  • When was the last time your character cried?
  • When was the last time your character was happy?
  • What does your character think of when they think of water? (Do some word association with him/her.)
  • What did your character want to be when she/he was a kid?
  • How far is your character willing to go to get what he/she wants?

Ask your character anything, but make your questions count.

After you’ve had your chat or therapy session or psychic consultation, thank them for their time and let them get back to their cheese platter. Take what you can use and apply it to your story.

PRO TIP: Whatever you learn from your characters in these greenrooming sessions, hang on to it for your content marketing! Much of what Perjos the magician told me I didn’t use in the novel, but I did use it for blog posts to help market the book, framed as “Get to Know The World’s Greatest Mind Magician”.

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