Chip MacGregor

January 2, 2015

Have Tea with your Characters (a guest blog)


Sometimes life gets in the way of our writing and we reach a slump. We’re not lazy or without a plot for our story, rather, we’re exhausted from that other life, i.e., the one we’re not writing. There are many things tugging for our attention. You know them: jobs, finances, relationships, family, kids, kids who make poor choices, parents, parents who are ill, pets, pets that bark at Jehovah Witnesses and bust out windows, lost library books, and even cobwebs and dust bunnies. Escaping into our world of characters and plot might work for a day, but then reality knocks at our office door. (In my case, I no longer have an office; I’m at the end of the dining room table, making me visible to all I live with, sort of like being at Grand Central Station. I’ve invested in a cheap pair of headphones and they seem to block out the activity around me.)

But sometimes I just have to leave the feisty pets, the dust bunnies and the others I live with, and get out of the house. If life has made me too discouraged to do what I love—-to write, then I need time to think things through. I call it “having tea with my characters”. As I walk on a favorite park trail, I think about how each one of my characters would react if I invited them to a party with those finger sandwiches and my favorite Earl Grey. I take mental notes. If I had one of those smart phones, I could record my notes, but instead I rely on memory and the minute I get back to my car, I write down everything. Bits of conversations as tea was served, a new phrase Aunt Kazuko coined when she sat at the dinette table, the color of the sky when Nathan confessed that he missed Lucy, the brokenness Papa held when carted off to an internment camp.

Going on a long walk when you’re overwhelmed by life is therapeutic. Often it’s my characters that help me get back on track. They struggle, I struggle. They remind me that nothing great is ever achieved through giving up. All together, we fight for me to finish my novel.

This is how my newest release was written; when that other life made me feel downhearted, I pressed on with a little help from moving away from the dining room table, heading outdoors, and having tea with my characters.


~ Alice J. Wisler (represented by MacGregor Literary) is an award-winning author of five novels, including the newest that was just released, Under the Silk Hibiscus, a story set in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. Visit her website:

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  • Kathie says:

    Sometimes you have to runaway from the little things to get your identity back. With my husbands illness I find that I get lost in shuffle of his care and treatments. It is nice just to get away even for a few minutes to find me again. A long walk or a cup of “Irish Breakfast Tea” with a good book.:)

    • Alice Jay Wisler says:

      Glad that you can get away. Caregivers need special care for those long hours of service.

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    I find that listening to Christmas music and doing dishes and baking cookies was the equivalent to having tea with my characters. Ideas come on walks as well and at church. But…I write YA and middle grade for boys…these characters don’t usually have tea…although in the case of the middle grade characters could break some tea cups and spill a tea pot…I guess picturing a tea party with 10-year-old boys is a writing exercise in and of itself. Hmmmm….

    • Alice J. Wisler says:

      Hahaa! If you write about that tea party with those boys, let me read it!

    • Deb Watley says:

      For those boy characters, take the boy and some of his friends for an imaginary car ride. Somehow they forget you’re driving, and they have very interesting conversations. This works with real boys, too.

    • Alice J. Wisler says:

      Great idea, Deb! Car rides bring out great conversations in real life, as you’ve said.

  • PeterLeavell says:

    Alice, this post touched me deeply on so many levels. I wear so many hats, and scramble to carve 15 or 20 minutes throughout the day to write or research. Your idea to take a break with my characters is marvelous!

  • Mark McGinn says:

    It’s a great idea. I’ve had one of my protaganists (in a series) actually interview me. A pot of Earl Gray would’ve been nice but she didn’t run to that. Still, we got to know one another better.

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