Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Listen: Your Characters Are Talking To You

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

You'll see that question a lot this month because of NaNoWriMo. Personally, I don't feel I fit into either category. I've been working on a novel manuscript for about five months now, and while I have a solid idea of the direction it's going, the specifics only come to me as I'm writing.

Because of some computer problems, I've been writing this novel on an old manual typewriter, so instead of a Word document, I just have a pile of pages sitting to the left of my desk, waiting for me to clean them up and edit them.

This particular pile of pages has been antagonizing me because even though I numbered them, they're still out of order. Here's why: the novel follows the intertwining stories of five young people and around the time when my computer started acting up and I switched to the typewriter, I was having trouble getting one of them to tell me his story (We'll call him D). I had decided it was time for D to speak up and take the stage, but he wasn't ready. The pages I had written about him were flat and I knew immediately that they would have to be cut. I wasn't ready to cut them yet, because I still wanted D to tell me his story, and so I left them in the pile with the others, messing up my page count and causing me annoyance whenever I thought about it.

Several weeks (and dozens of pages) later, I sat at my typewriter trying to find the words for my main character (We'll call her A) when a sentence flashed across my brain. It was from the point of view of D, and I pushed it aside because it was still A's turn. She was in the middle of a crucial scene and it didn't make sense for him to be interrupting. But D was persistent: the sentence continued to flash across my brain until I finally pecked the letters out on the typewriter. 

I ended up writing several pages about D and now I am deeply entrenched in his story like I wanted to be earlier in the novel. It is flowing and makes more sense in the narrative now. I would have saved myself so much stress if I had only listened to my characters in the first place. 

I'll still have to go back and finish A's scene and make it tie in with D's story, but that's what second drafts are for. The beauty of a typewriter too is that I can always rearrange the pages if I need to. Who knows where I would be if I hadn't listened to D and continued trying to force A's story to unfold? 

Next time you're stuck on a scene try sitting quietly for a few minutes and listen for your characters to tell you where they want to go. After all, it's their story, you're just the scribe.

Have you ever had an experience like this? How do you get your characters to talk to you?

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