Monday, November 26, 2012

Listening to Your Characters

I'm less than 5k away from winning NaNoWriMo, and even better, less than 10k away from finishing my first draft of The Lovely Invisible. Now is the time I can barely eat or sleep because the tension in the story is so high that I need to write, write, write to get it all out of me. Now is the time I see the story coming full circle, even in its messiness, even past the long list of "Things to Fix Later"--which brings me to listening to characters during writing.

As I've mentioned in past posts, I've done a lot of legwork with this novel in outlining, researching, and other preparations. That's great for keeping me on task with the plot and not staring at blank pages, but it makes it a little frightening when I'm in the midst of following my neat plan and--WHAM!--my headstrong main character says, "Um, excuse me, Mother Author, I can't walk down that tidy little path you paved for me. I know myself better than you do, and I would sooooo not do that." (She sounds so much like my thirteen-year-old daughter.)

"Wait, what?" I reply. "You HAVE to! I've spent weeks figuring out the timeline your story, and this needs to happen right now."

My character rolls her eyes. "Do you seriously think I'm that one-dimensional? I'm. Not. Going. To. Do. It. In this situation, here's what I'd do instead--that and nothing else."

"But. But. You're  not supposed to do that for four more chapters! And you're supposed to HATE the villain and kiss your lover boy NOW."

"Listen, Mother Author"--my character pats my tendonitis-stricken hand--"just trust me. Things will be better my way."

I groan. "All right, let's say I do follow your lead..." I feverishly flip through my note card outline. "You realize if you change this here, I'm going to have to go back and fix, like, a bazillion things to streamline the whole manuscript."


"Yeah, and that would mean a TON of revising. That's precious time, my dear character."

She folds her arms and gives me a level stare. "Did you really think you'd have a perfect first draft, Mom?"

I shrug sheepishly, and then throw my hands in the air. "Fine! You win! Are you happy?"

She squeals with delight and gives me a bear hug. "Yes! Thank you! You're the best!"

I huff. "Yeah, yeah."


Does any of this sound familiar? Am I the only one who has these battles with my characters--and lose most of the time?

But perhaps I'm winning...I just don't know it yet. Perhaps when I read my manuscript from beginning to end, I'll shake my head with wonder. Because then I'll realize, "Dang, my character was sooooo right!"


  1. Um...yeah. All too familiar. Completely happened with a few of my characters this time around. What's an author to do? My characters are spoiled...I always give them what they want. :)

  2. THose changes can be so scary, but sometimes turn out to be the best thing ever. Good luck with that headstrong character of yours! ;)

  3. Those stinking characters are usually right :)

  4. Been there for sure. And usually, the characters are right. I sure love it when they push me to be better!

  5. Hello, my name is Robin and my characters talk to me.
    Dang characters having to be all 3 dimensional and have real feeling and emotions and needs. It's tough, but when I don't listen to them I regret it. Still, I've had characters galavanting off with my story and had to rein them in too, so it's definitely a balancing act.
    Excited that you're so close. *hangs up streamers* *makes ooddles of Greek food for the party*

  6. My debates with characters normally come very early and I make it a point to get to know them very well--even the single scene hired hand. Once that "mutual understanding" has been established, the rest is pretty straight forward. Usually. ;-)

  7. *sigh* Those stubborn characters. And yep, they cost lots of revising, but usually it is better 'their' way.

  8. Ilima- Yes, this happened to both of us the same day with our drafts. Crazy!

    Sara- My character is definitely headstrong. She's a queen, too, so yeah... :-)

    Angie- Don't I know it!

    Emily- I'd love to hear some of your stories of what you changed to accommodate characters. I think it's fascinating how novels evolve.

    Robin- I'm glad we're in writer rehab together. Haha...

    Jeff- I'm super impressed you flesh out your characters so well before drafting. I *think* I do, but they always surprise me.

    "T" <--Can I call you T? :-) One of these days I'll give in to the characters' desires sooner and save myself a lot of trouble!

  9. Listening to your gut (or your characters!) is always the smart way to go, I've found. I just hit this in my outlining, even. Haven't even started the book yet.

  10. This happens to me all the time. Outlines (which for me are not very detailed and more like plot points in a dot-to-dot) are only a suggestion as far as my characters are concerned. And my characters do have the best ideas. It is their story after all.

    What I was wondering, when I read the opening paragraph of your post, was how you could estimate how many words it would take to end your draft. I never have any idea how many words it will take to write something. And if anything, I usually underestimate. My first drafts are always morbidly obese.