Fiction,  How To Write A Novel: Step by Step,  writing tips


Getting Your Character Out of the Room

“I do believe that characters in novels belong to their writers and their readers pretty equally. I’ve learned a lot of things about the characters I write from people who read about them. Readers expand them in ways I don’t think of and take them to places I can’t go.

Anne Brashares

How do I get my character out of the room?” This is the dilema that caught me completely off-guard and threw me into a bout of writer’s block when I first began to write my novel. The situation is not nearly as scary if you have a few scenes already crafted, but still, transitions can be complicated.

Transitions have many uses: break tension, slow the pace, skip to new events, switch to a different mood, change location. But today, I just want to focus on how to get the character out of one situation and into a new one effectively. If you find your character getting bogged down in the mundane, you know it’s time for a change.

Here are some options:

  • Introduce a new character to change the dynamics and allow for a change. For example, in my WIP Anywhere But Here, Lily is booking a flight, without her father’s permission, to escape to her grandmother’s place 3,000 miles from home. A whole chapter of her making the plans and internal dialogue would be super boring, and yet the reader still needs to know what is going on in her head. Instead, I introduce Lily’s best friend Samm and her brother into the mix. That changes the dynamic completely, by getting Lily out of the house, adding conflict and allowing the reader insight into just how desperate Lily is to escape.
  • End the chapter. Okay so this is perhaps an obvious one, but sometimes a chapter can be shorter than you think if a change is necessary. Ending a chapter allows you to skip some boring things like supper and going to bed. Don’t end every chapter at the end of the day and start the next chapter when your protagonist wakes up. But more about that in another post.
  • Find a job for the character to do. A request is made which interrupts the  conversation or the scene, just when it’s about to get boring. In The Lost Letter by Julian Cantor, the mother asks her daughter, Elena, to chop wood, which gets them away from the dinner table. The other benefit of this transition is that it allows for an exchange between the two main characters, setting up conflict, and developing what will become an important relationship.

Time-Travel transitions. 

In The Journal, Kami is reading the journal she finds in her grandparents historic home and is transported through time to 1929. She hears voices outside the door, then creeps down the stairs to find a New Year’s Eve party in full swing. As Kami wanders through the dim hallway, smelling the cigarette smoke and hearing laughter, the reader adjusts to the change and is more willing to suspend their disbelief. Another tip to make the transition work effectively, is to create physical drama. Kami’s eyes blur. She feels dizzy. The room begins to spin. Is it a migraine? The reader suspects it’s something bigger.

Authentic Mi’kmaq porcupine quill trinket box

The Mi’kmaq quill box opens the portal to the past in Winds of L’Acadie. Sarah, is on a dyke built by the Acadians in the 1700, holding her grandfather’s trinket box, when the fierce winds swirl around her, blowing her into the past. She closes her eyes against the wind and when the wind slowly settles, she opens her eyes on a new scene.

Whichever way you decide to get the character out of the room, always keep in mind what experience do you want to give your reader.


Write a scene about a family situation that goes sideways. A birthday party or other celebration. A Christmas dinner. Perhaps everyone is tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. The hostess (Mom) is beaming at everyone, trying to keep the peace. Doing her best to ignore the elephant. Something interrupts the peace and triggers a heated discussion. Some kind of sound. An alarm, a siren, a shattering glass, a baby crying. Maybe it is even a whispered conversation that suddenly explodes in anger. What can you show your reader through this transition from the mockery of peace to the aftermath of the explosion? Perhaps this is the inciting incident that sets your story in motion.

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