When I was little I used to talk to myself. I worried why everyone else didn’t. Was I crazy? Or worse yet, was I destined for politics?
Then it came to me, I wasn’t crazy, at least not in rubber walls and white jacket way. I was a writer. Talking to myself was more an emerging method to work through a scene, finesse out a plot or better yet, wrangle an unruly character into doing what I wanted them to do.
Building suspense, sharpening the hook, dangling plot twists like choice tidbits, all of these skills have become my primary education as an emerging writer. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have met some amazing people along the way, one in particular, who have helped me with either a nudge or a shove in the right directions. There is one thing, however, that no one could teach me or, rather didn’t try to. That’s because the process of learning how to listen to your characters and let them out of the closet, so to speak, is a unique and highly personal experience.
Not so long ago I leapt feet, head and heart first into the creation of my first full length novel. I had this vision, pretty and petite, of my main protagonist and no matter how much she protested I kept sticking her in pencil skirt when she was hollering for blue jeans. I didn’t listen, I was as stubborn as the proverbial Missouri mule. It isn’t that I knew I was being stubborn or even blind. I was just being influenced by the character profiles I had been reading for years. Was it any wonder that I struggled?
I have no idea why I wanted to treat my character like a rebellious adolescent rather than an adult. It only gave me a headache and stalled my writing.
Finally, one night, when I was too tired to fight and my character pounced and with one mighty blow, she had me on the mat. She firmly insisted that I was getting her all wrong. She wasn’t the timid bland creation I’d been bumbling along with; she was hardcore, a bit on the coarse side even. She was most definitely not as passive as I was making her out to be. She was, in short, herself and if I listened I’d hear and see her as she was, not how I wanted her to be.
I stopped coercing her and started giving her the run of the place. What I found is the story, in her words. I’m not saying this technique will solve all the problems, but there will be a flow where there once wasn’t. I have found a freedom to let my stories unfold naturally by letting my characters have their say instead of me putting words in their mouths.