LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS…
Or They May Abandon You Forever
By Natalie Bright
My novel about a 14 year old boy set in the Texas frontier is a typical coming of age story, which involves him finishing the job of delivering a wagon load of goods after his father died. Ben has a run in with outlaws, is shot by a Comanche arrow, gets lost in the wilderness; just your typical Wild West adventure. The young Comanche brave would not leave me alone. The only thing I could do to get that kid out of my mind was to write key scenes in his viewpoint. I realized I liked him and instead of being my antagonist, the story changed. I inserted Roving Wolf’s scenes where they belonged in the already finished book. I now have two protagonists who become friends.
Here’s what I learned from that experience: you don’t have to write an entire book chapter by chapter in that exact order. For some of us, Point A to Point B is not how our mind works when it comes to creative fiction.
Don’t be afraid to explore those flashes of imagery in your brain. It might be a piece of dialogue. Maybe it’s a minor character that keeps nagging you about a scene you left them out of. It might be a place that flashes in your mind, and then poof, it’s gone again. You know someone was there and something happened, and you have to write it before you learn why that place is important. For me, it’s like an explosion in my head. The imagery of that character is so alive. Sometimes it’s a conversation that seems so vibrant and real, it can’t be ignored.
Some writers say that their characters never talk to them, and usually it shows in their stories. Their characters are flat, lifeless, with no personality. When you take the time to dig into your character’s head and heart, then their personality will become real. When they are real to you, they’ll be real to your readers.
DIG DEEP: HERE’S HOW
If your book is in 3rd person, rewrite several scenes in 1st person POV. Free write, in your character’s POV, about their childhood, favorite things or people, life experiences, greatest fears. The deeper you dig, their motives, desires, angst will become clearer. That protagonist will begin to tell you even more (truth!). I know, it’s a creepy, strange and glorious experience, so I wouldn’t mention it to your non-writerly friends. I promise, one of your characters will pop into your mind out of and tell you something wonderful. Keep in mind, that the majority of the things you learn about your protagonist and antagonist during this process will not make it into your manuscript. When you’re character is faced with a conflict, you’ll know exactly how he or she will react and that’s what endears them to your readers. We learn more and more as the story progresses.
Don’t be afraid to give your characters the attention they deserve. Allow them to tell you their secrets. Just make sure you’re taking notes.