Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Listening to Your Characters

Today is the Primal Scream blogfest, but after searching through my WIPs I couldn't find a good scene that didn't also give away plot points, so sadly I won't be participating. You should go and read the other entries, though!

One more note of business: Elizabeth Mueller is having an awesome contest. Go check it out! Elizabeth Mueller's contest

Finally, here's today's actual blog posting. Because I couldn't find a scene for the Primal Scream blogfest, I'm reposting here the same article I posted at Critique_This_WIP today. If you don't follow us over there, you really should. And don't forget to enter our Flirt Fest blogfest while you're there. You'll be very sad if you miss out on it.

I once had a playwriting instructor who was the best writing teacher I ever had.

One of the courses he taught was advanced playwriting. Because there were only three of us in the class he didn't really lecture. He spent a lot of time showing us video of plays and documentaries about playwrights, having us read a variety of different kinds of plays, and engaging us in conversation about writing.

He also listened. We were constantly giving him sob stories about how this character or that plot point were giving us trouble. He would patiently let us finish our complaining, and then he would tell us to listen to our characters. Quit trying to force them to do something they don't want to. If you pay attention, they'll let you know what's appropriate for them and what isn't.

Good advice, I think. And advice I try to use whenever I'm writing, whether it's a stage play, a screenplay, flash fiction, or a novel.

Case in point: I just finished the first draft of my thesis screenplay, but this was after a major rewrite. The first version sucked big time, and when Hubby and I reread it, it was clear the characters were forced and the plot just didn't work the way it was laid out. So, we listened to the characters and when we paid attention to them instead of trying to force them to be something they weren't, the path was clear. The rewrite is awesome, and something I'm really proud of.

Same thing for my (as of yet unnamed) romance trilogy (which, btw, I'm driving myself crazy trying to name). Although I currently have the first draft of two of the three novels written, while working on editing I can clearly see places I didn't listen to my characters. I am busily fixing these.

So, this is the gist of my instructor's advice: Create your characters, develop them, get to know them as neighbors and friends, or even as enemies. Have conversations with them not related to the story you're writing. Do this until they're not just characters but people you know. Then when you sit down to write their stories, you'll know exactly how they'll react in any given situation.

How do you deal with unruly characters who don't cooperate? Do they give you writer's block? What do you do to whip them into shape?


Anonymous said...

Hello, embee. I'm a fellow "createe" in Merrilee's workshop.

I agree with your professor. The only time I have trouble writing is when I don't listen to my characters. I once had to pull off the freeway to take notes when my one of my characters surprised me by telling me I had her all wrong. :-)

Meredith said...

Hello, Embee. Wonderful advice here! Many times I will write several "slice of life" moments in my characters' daily lives, just to see how it is from their point of view, and many times I put them in first person, too, so I can really get into their skin.

Welcome to the Creativity Workshop from a fellow participant in the course. :)