Thursday, August 30, 2012

What to Do When Your Characters Stop Talking

I've been trying to wrap my head around one of my characters lately. It's not just any character. It's the character... ya know, the main character of my book. It seems the more I edit, the more I feel like I just know this character externally. With all my other protagonists, I can feel them at my core. I can feel their motivations for why they make the decisions they make. But with this protagonist, I just can't quite get there. I'm not sure if I even did when I was writing her.

So, it dawned on my today that maybe I should get to know her through others. I've got a pretty firm grasp on the other characters' voices, so I decided to sit down and hone in on what they had to say about her.

I asked her mother figure, her best friend (female), her other best friend (male), the guy who's crushing on her, and some of the other people who know her. I was somewhat surprised by their answers. When I asked one of her tutors, I was downright surprised at the answer.

Then, I went and took these answers to my MC (main character) to find out what she had to say... to see how these answers resonated with her. And there it was, like a pulsing beacon deep inside me, I found out why I couldn't connect with her before... more on why I couldn't connect with her later.

In any case, the truth is we all have that moment where we start panicking over the fact that a character has stopped talking to us.

1. You've done something to upset your character.
  • Example/Problem: I did this once. And when I tried to continue the story from this one point I'd written to keep the plot going in the direction I wanted, but I found I couldn't hear my character anymore.
  • The Fix: Rewind and delete. Ask your character what you did wrong. Chances are you made a decision for your character that your character would not make. What would your character do? Close your eyes and let your character envelope you. Play out the scene in your head up to that moment... then wait. Wait for your character's action and/or response. You might be surprised by what happens. It's probably better than what you'd planned originally.
2. You've fallen out of contact with your character.
  • Example/Problem: You've brought your story to a certain point or maybe even completed it, and your characters have gone all mute on you... as if they don't even exist except on paper anymore.
  • The Fix: Try rereading your favorite or most climatic scenes... the ones that should be wrought with emotion. If this doesn't work, talk to your other characters. A lot of us are only let the MCs in our head. Try talking to some of the smaller parts.
3. You've gotten bored with your character and they have ceased to exist in your world.
  • Example/Problem: How many times has this happened? You've come up with some other idea or character that has completely ransacked your world, dominating your thoughts and screen time.
  • The Fix: One option is to let that WIP (work in progress) go cold for a while. If it's something you've finished, it helps to have a cooling off period before edits. If this is not the case then: Lists. Yes, no writer likes extra work, but it helps. They do this in therapy to help people learn who they are. Write a list of character traits, thoughts, expressions, etc.
4. None of the above fit?
  • Well, chances are your characters are fine and you are self doubting.
  • The Fix: Stop self doubting. It gets you no where. If something is bothering you about your WIP, go and fix it. Whatever it takes. The old "it's just not good enough" isn't reason to give it up. Write a list of what's not good enough, then read articles, research, and find out how to fix it. Chances are you are better than you realize.
Sample Questions I asked my characters:
Insert your character names into the parenthesis, and come up with your own! These were all directed towards particular characters that fit their relationship with my MC.
  1. Why do you like (the protag)?
  2. Why is she different to you than (insert other character name here)?
  3. What makes you worry about (MC)?
  4. Why are you so flirtatious with (MC) when you know you don't like her like that?
  5. Why do you look up to (MC)?
  6. Why have you taken care of (MC) so long?
  7. Why are you so certain (MC) is who you say she is?
  8. Can you tell that (MC) is nervous?
  9. Do you feel that (MC) resents you for bringing her into this world?
  10. How could you abandon (MC) knowing what she had been through?
  11. Why is (MC) so important to this cause? Why does it have to be her?
  12. Would you still like (MC) if (MC) gave up?
Just something you guys to mull over. Please add any questions you've used to open your characters up in the comments below or email them to me at Ashley dot AE dot Elizabeth at gmail dot com. I'll be compiling them into a much larger post.

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