Listen to Your Characters

Even though my life hasn’t been altered to the degree that many others have experienced over the past month, I’m certainly not immune to the effects. As a result I’ve tried to make it a priority to spend more time working on writing projects.

At the top of my to-do list is the draft of my current novel, a project that sat on the shelf for some time but which I’ve decided to revisit. I took a little break from working on it, during which time I mulled it over in my head looking for what was missing. I’d been fighting it for a while and growing frustrated at my inability to get past the point at which I was hung up, until I finally decided to take some of my own advice.

In my writing classes I talk a lot about characters – specifically, how they drive a story. A good character can drive a weak story much easier than the other way around. The key is to listen to them. If they’re well developed, they’ll lead you wherever they want to go. Often we try to force them into the narratives we create, and sometimes they’ll go along with it for a while. But you can’t force them into places they don’t want to be, not for long. I realized I was asking for something that my main character just wasn’t interested in giving me. It’s not my story, after all. It’s his.

With that in mind I handed over the reins and let him run with things. Without going into the specifics of the story I have to say, so far he’s doing a much better job of figuring things out than I was. Ultimately I still have the final say on what goes on. But I’ll be paying attention to what he (and some of the other characters) want from here on out.

You could say the moral of this little tale is to practice what you preach. All I needed to do was to take a bit of my own advice. When you’ve painted yourself into a corner in your story, don’t be afraid to rely on the characters you’ve developed. They oughta know what’s best – it’s their story, after all.

-JP

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