When Your Characters Go Silent

So you have the perfect idea for a novel, you know where it's headed, you've brainstormed different curves to reach those results, and then ---- silence.  Your main character isn't co-operating.  For someone who had been "yapping" to have their story told now they've turned mute.  Have you ever had this happen?  I have before, and it's not a fun experience.

For me, it went on for days.  I kept re-thinking the story-line, and the characters tweaking different aspects.  It actually got to the point where I got upset with the main character, and said "why aren't you talking to me?"  Their response was "I'm not who you think I am."  (It's a good thing my audience is writers or I'd be considered a schizophrenic.)

But, maybe this silence hasn't come during the brainstorming phase, but in the middle of the book.  Either way, when a "roadblock" hits we can panic:  There goes the book.  What am I supposed to do now?

Most important thing to remember is nothing is solved by panicking.  If fact, if we let it fester, it can paralyze us from forward momentum.

On the flipside to this, don't feel guilty if you need to step back from the book for a few days.  Remember, there's always a reason if our characters aren't "talking" to us - either we have the story wrong, or we have them wrong.  For me, it was my character.  I had him pegged as an innocent, whereas it turned out, he wasn't.

So what can we do to move beyond this, and get our characters speaking again?

1) Step back, think things through.
2) Interview your characters.  Let them tell you who they are.  Don't tell them who they are.
3) Think through the direction of your story.  Is it progressing logically in accord with the personalities of our characters?
3) And if they're still not talking, do something completely non-related to writing.  Talk a walk, read a book (not yours), watch a movie, go out with friends.  You get it - just let your mind relax.

Or, when all else fails you could always try the direct approach, like I did. lol

What about you?  What do you do to get your characters speaking again?

Comments

  1. I sort of had that happen with my wip. I'd written my last novel in third person (had to), and was doing the same with this one, but my main character's personality seemed to hide from me once I was really getting into it. Switching to first person made all the difference for me. That, and listening a certain artist that reminded me of her (Fiona Apple). Obviously not everyone can switch pov (based on the story), but I LOVE your ideas, esp the one about interviewing your character - brilliant!

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  2. That is really terrific advice Kimberly. Even if someone couldn't keep the portion written in the "switched-up" POV, it would provide an excellent springboard to get things moving again. Thank you for sharing that!

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  3. I find this happens whenever I write something that the character wouldn't do, or would do a different way. Whenever I write something the wrong way, the crickets start chirping in my head. :-D

    Great post!

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  4. I had a character worked out for my fantasy series, which I've been plotting for years. He really served no purpose, I plotted out three novels and couldn't figure out why I like him so much, but he was always the guy left out of the excitement. Then one day, it just came to me. It'll be worth the time to go back and rewrite him. I had him set up as the big strong guy, and stereotypical stupid. The third novel it just hit me once, after he once again found himself missing the books climatic finale. He was rebelling, and once I realized, he was actually an engineer, his story began to unfold so clear I started getting ideas for a spinoff series revolving around him. All that time and all I had to do was ask him what his problem was. Turns out, he's the one who will save the day in that novel.

    A decade and I thought he was just a dumb jock. I haven't tried leading my characters since. They now guide me, I just catalog their stories to share with others someday.

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  5. Thank you for your comment Marion, and TL, obviously I'm not the only one who takes the direct approach with their characters.

    I guess sometimes us writers delude ourselves into thinking that we're telling our stories, when we really should remember we're sharing our character's.

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