Listening to Your Characters

He wasn’t a smart guy, but he thought he was.

And that was the crux. I believed him and tried to make him do things a smart guy would do.

And then I got stuck.

Many times.

What had started out as a fun, simple short story that I figured I’d wrap up in a couple of days wound up taking a whole week, all because I didn’t listen to my characters.

It took a lot of dead-ends and redrafts before I realized that this particular character only thought he was smart. His friend, my POV character, knew that. Even mentioned it and reacted as if that had always been the case.

That’s who this problem character was. That’s who I needed to let him be.

One of the things I’ve learned over the course of writing short stories is that when I get stuck, it’s best to take some time to step back and ask why. Usually, it’s the critical voice speaking, which is not always truthful and I need to just carry on and write the next sentence. But, once in a blue moon, he’s actually speaking up for my creative voice. Sometimes he’s telling me, “Hey, look. I don’t normally stand up for this idiot, but for everyone’s sanity, stop trying to tell him what to do. Let him do his job and you stick to yours–recording the events.”

It never ceases to amaze me how that turns the water back on and the words start flowing again.

So, the next time you’re stuck on your work-in-progress, try stepping back. Listen to what your characters are really telling you.

And then type the next sentence.

-Phillip

5 thoughts on “Listening to Your Characters

  1. Great advice, Phillip! And absolutely valid for characters in novels too.

  2. Thanks, Harvey. And thanks for reminding everyone that it works just as well on the novel front…especially as I’m about 8,500 words in to my 1 of 4 this year.

  3. Journaling in my character’s POV usually helps me to get unstuck. Happy New Year, Phillip!

    1. I really like that idea, Jill! Another good way to hear what they’re saying. Happy New Year!

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