Did you know that my characters are finally talking to me? It’s taken them about 5 years to start up again, but I’m thrilled. When my mom got sick, they were nice enough to slow down their talking. When she died, they stopped. I think partially because they knew how sad I was, but partially because I think they knew part of me was hitting a wall. I’m not talking about writers block. Oh no, writer’s block would have been easy compared to the wall I hit.
I had a breakdown. Literally. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even close to being something enjoyable. And the voices I’ve heard in my head– the stories that have always been present since childhood went silent. Honestly, I feared I might never hear them again. Luckily, I was smart enough to have written many of their musings down. It helped when the voices stopped. No longer did I have them waking me up at odd hours. No longer did they push me to keep writing when I needed to sleep. But no longer did I have this joy to write for them either. I was a broken author– or so I thought.
It took therapy, medication, and learning that somehow I had crossed wires, burnout and had allowed the characters too much access to myself to blame for the sudden quietness in my head. But late last year, I began to hear a whisper. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Then early this year, that whisper became two characters demanding time to them. I laughed at both of them. I hadn’t had this kind of fighting in years. Did I mind? Nope. I was hoping it would end up being a boatload of characters all demanding for my time, though I’d settle for two characters yammering for now.
Sometimes characters won’t talk. They zip their lips and just won’t speak. When that happens, I get evil on them. I break out my indepth character sheets and I start plugging in all the info I have on them. Then I start playing the GMC card on them. It goes like this……”Because of ________, you would hate it if I do __________to you, wouldn’t you?” Then I wait to see if they react. Sometimes I’ll hear them say, “Don’t do that!” or they will just grin at me as if to dare me to do it. That’s usually when I know they have something evil planned back in return. Which is when I go fishing for the hidden gems in their background. Usually it’s something they think I didn’t hear them talk about in passing when they were talking, but I did. Sometimes I pretend to ignore all the talk, but I take down notes– very brief notes, sometimes just a word or a key phrase, enough to remind me what I need to know. Then when it comes time, I’ll throw it back at them– usually as a throwaway scene or as a flashback scene I may or may not include in the storyline. Oh yeah, then they start bitching and moaning at me. “Why are you talking about that?! They don’t need to know anything about that time!” Music to my ears. 😀
Sometimes characters will talk around the subject. That’s when I want to kick their asses. They won’t talk about what’s really important. They’ll tell you everything else around that topic but won’t say it exactly. Yeah, can we say they’re like three year old children? “Do you want some candy, Cyn?” My reply? “Do you want that piece of candy?” They jump back, “No, why would you think that?!” Bah humbug! They want the candy, but don’t want me to know why they want it. Oh, but I’ll find out. I’ll dangle it, offer them a small sample, then yank it back just as they are reaching for it. Sometimes, you have to offer them that taste then take it away, force them to speak up on what’s important– otherwise, they won’t face what they fear, what they desire, or even recognize what they need. They’re like us really. Sometimes, authors need that swift kick to know what’s needed and what’s important too in the making of the character.
Some of my author friends interview their characters. Others create detailed character sheets. Some of my friends are like me– their characters come to them fully grown and will talk to them, though occasionally, they hold back. Or they will go 180 degrees on you because there is something there that not even they could have imagined. There is no one way to know your characters– but getting to know them is an art form. Learning the basic characteristics of them will help you to know what kinds of things to expect from the hero type, the mentor type, etc. Sometimes, you might find that one is a combination or is transforming slowly from one thing to another because of what’s happening in the plotline of the story. This is always good to know. *kicks current character in the tush* Things like this help you so you can layer the changes as the story progresses, little by little so it doesn’t just seem to suddenly happen, but is a progressive study of the character through various trials, tribulations, rewards, and reactions.
And as long as they talk– you keep listening. When they stop talking– break out the bribery. Even characters take bribes…..yes, they do. *whistles and breaks out the Belgian chocolate and raspberry Belgian ale*