Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How do you get your characters to talk?

We're in the midst of some heavy duty revisions on the WIP and I think it's safe to say that Sarah and I are in the middle of our first fight. And no, Sarah isn't the mythical 4th Roecker sister, she's our main character. Up until this point she's been very cooperative, but now she and her little friends are getting stubborn.

Truthfully, I think they might be a little bit jealous. I'm very taken with some of the secondary characters in an earlier section of the book and they know they can't compete. It's so frustrating because I know exactly what I want them to do and how I want it all to work, but I just can't make the words jump off the page.


So, any suggestions on what to do when your characters clam up? I'm going to try playing 25 questions to see if I can get some information out of them, but if that doesn't work, I'm going to have to go all Sayid on their asses. That's right, I'm not above torturing my own characters.

If all else fails, maybe I'll just try to bribe them with our Karmic Kindle.


Abby Annis said...

My WIP characters have been doing this too. There was one particular scene that should've been exciting and super tense, but it was just so boring. I rewrote it from a different character's POV and it was so much better. Maybe that's cheating, since it's all in first person, but it worked. Good luck!

Corey Schwartz said...

Sorry, I am too busy ogling your 271 followers to comment.

Unknown said...

I'm with Corey. I just want to point out that I was following you way back when...if your hands should just happen to stray towards one particular entry in Kindlepalooza.

Also, excellent use of the word "blerg."

Little Ms J said...

Holy moly. You added 170ish followers overnight or what? You're totally blogging in a tiara again, aren't you?

I like blerg.

As I haven't written fiction I don't know that I have advice, but I can back up Abby's comment. The Twilight saga actually has versions from several different characters POV which I think is very interesting. Maybe you'll learn about the stubborn ones from the ones you like. Girls love to gossip.

storyqueen said...

Love Sayid.

When this happens, I usually write the scene a couple of ways...kind of like when your kid says she's bored and you suggest some things, but the only response you get is, "Naaahhhh." Then you say, "Fine, you can clean your room or pick up the dog poop."

Force the scene. Write it and allow it to be horrible. Your character won't like picking up dog poop (trust me) and she'll let you know what she really wants to do.


Unknown said...

Listen. I know that sound so stupid.

But really. Go to the mall or something and listen to people talking all around you. I just got this great bit of dialogue while I was at church the other night when my oldest was being confirmed. It was hot and people were sniffly and everyone was afraid of the flu. Oh. MY Goodness... the things some of those people were saying. One exchange in particular gave me a whole scene of dialogue.

This one woman said.. "I think I took the wafer wrong,"

The guy next to her said.. "What makes you think that?"

"The Priest gave me a funny look."

"Did you spit it back at him?"

They laugh. I get a whole fricken chapter.

Really. Listen. Go eavesdrop on the world.

confused homemaker said...

I know this is going to sound a little odd but well I'm odd ;)

Listen to them, don't try to force them to talk. Instead take a day to just listen, listen through the people around you (those you know & don't know), in the silence of the day, & in the sound around you.

I believe that characters do talk but if we put so much pressure on them we can't hear them. Our demands push out their voices.

Ok, I told you it would sound odd.

Dana Elmendorf said...

Change the setting. I created dialog between my characters to reveal some important information and the first time I did it, well it sucked. So I changed the setting, I had to reworked the details around the big info and it came out a lot better.

Hope this helps.

sunna said...

I do one of two things:

1) open up Write or Die and put it on the Kamikaze setting. Having my words deleted if I slow down seems to open up some direct link between my fingers and my subconscious, which generally already knows how the scene ends.

2) Write a random exercise where I take my MC and any recalcitrant characters and dump them in my apartment for an hour, then watch them try to figure out what happened to them. Dunno why, but that usually does it. Also, it's pretty funny.

Tamika: said...

Try tipping them all the way over the edge! It works for me.

If all else fails I am not above bribing them- the Kindle should definitely work.

Tara McClendon said...

I'm a fan of the torture route. If you make them angry enough--they'll talk. Sometimes I get them to talk by asking totally random questions. For example: How would you describe a bubble? Good luck.

Christina Lee said...

umm I happen to have a little crush on Sayid...
I'm all about the listening and thinking on it thing too--

Loretta Nyhan said...

Sayid can go all Sayid on my ass. Oh, la!

But back to the character thing, for me, placing my MC outside the story doesn't work, but getting way into the head of a secondary character does--I get a fresh perspective and it usually helps me see what she's up to in a new way. Does that make sense?

Heidi Willis said...

Well, I wanted to comment just so you know I'm not following you for the Kindle, but I don't have anything better to say than anyone else.

Someone told me one of my minor characters was kind of blah, and I went back and told him, "they think you're blah." And he shrugged his shoulders and said, "yeah, That's kinda my personality."

No help at all! I gave him a three day old beard and a flannel shirt and he seemed to spark a little after that.

Carolyn V. said...

When I can't get the right words out, I take a break and let the character roam around in my brain a little. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. You'll have to let us know what you did and if it worked. =)

Tere Kirkland said...

LOL, usually when my characters aren't cooperating, I throw a new character into the mix and see what happens.

Hey, now I realize why I'm stalling on my NaNo. No way to introduce a new character that's a human being. Unless... *think, think, think*

No, I guess there's no way to have a plane crash in the middle of a 19th century German forest. Back to the drawing board.

Kimberly Derting said...

I actually do what Shelley's talking about and tell myself I'm going to just jump in and write and rewrite it (in completely different, and totally crappy, ways) until it finally "sounds" right. Usually, once I give myself that permission to loosen up, the first or second version sticks.

If not, I try chocolate. For me, not the characters. They don't deserve chocolate.

Hardygirl said...

Yes. Torture her. Think of the worst thing that could happen to her--and then make it happen. That'll get her talking


XiXi said...

Hmmm. I usually take a day off. Or else, I do a dialogue spine, which is just to write out dialogue and ONLY dialogue (no descriptors or other sentences in between). It's easier to tweak it from there, and then you can fill out the rest of the stuff later.

Artemis Grey said...

I had a character pull this on me with the YA that I just finished. She's a secondary character and although the mc loves her, she doesn't actually like the mc. She doesn't like her for many reasons. Which made her rather quiet. Which gave me trouble because I needed her to talk. I just had to give her time in the end. I had to get to know her a little better, even though I thought I already knew her. Turns out that I didn't.

I just gave it a little time, which isn't always easy, but like other folks have said, listening and watching seems to do the trick. It's like herding cats, the more you push the crazier they get. Ignore them and suddenly everyone wants to sit on your lap.

Donna Gambale said...

At first I was like what does Sayid have to do with this post? (I didn't care though. He's so yummy and wonderful.) And then I read it and looked back at the picture and I was like ohhhhhhh this is when he shoves stuff up Sawyer's fingernails. I get it!
I'm slow today.

And to actually answer your question... when my characters are disobeying me, I put them in a different scene and see if they like that better. Then go back later. And if that doesn't work, I beat them.

Nayuleska said...

Beat them up. Threaten them with eternal death. Or throw them to the Muse %-)

Sarah Wylie said...

I love Suzy's suggestion. Go and eavesdrop on the world. Or watch a movie. I know you don't usually read while writing (or at least I think you said you don't), but maybe read a book.
What made you love your MC/their friends to start with? Work your way out from there.

P.S. I second (third? fourth?) the "holy moly, 271 followers?" comments. Love it. Next you will be fielding calls from Oprah.

Shannon Messenger said...

Okay, my characters are WAY too real to me, so I don't usually have this problem with the main characters (if anything it's that my MC's won't shut up!)

But my side characters will clam up on me and I have a few character exercises to get me through:

1) Create a playlist of songs for that character (music they like--even if I hate it). Sometimes playing their music while I write gets me in their heads

2) Do a random writing exercise with the character (as much as I hate writing exercises they can help) So write a quick therapy session for the character, or throw them in a really weird situation--totally unrelated to anything--and see what they do.

3) When all else fails, delve back into my definition of who they are and see if I missed something. I had a character who I thought was shy, but when I tried to write her that way she made no sense. After trying everything else I tried writing her as not shy and I realized, she's shy around girls--not boys. Once I knew that she chatted my ear off.

Hope that helps. And I'm so glad I found your blog. I'm really enjoying it. (You may not love having me as a follower though. I'm known for epic length comments) :)

Amanda Bonilla said...

I try to take a step away from the keyboard. I jump in the shower (my thinking place) and I picture the scene like a movie. I try different scenarios, and I put myself in the place of the character. I have entire conversations in my head until I find the one that sounds natural.

Writers know how to use the voices in their heads ;)

Cheryl said...

'Swoon - I heart Sayid' I've not done the interview with them yet but I keep being told to do this as its worked for other writers. Will need to do this for the rewrite.

erica m. chapman said...

This is a hard one. I can relate, some of my fav characters in my WIP are the secondaries. What I've done before is interview them, and have the main character do the interview. It's amazing what you can find out about both of them :)

Suzyhayze has the right idea. I work in a mall office and when I go on "mall walks" I hear a lot of interesting things. People are strange...

Looks like the previous posters have some great ideas too.

Good Luck!!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

I make my characters write a journal and tell me about some childhood event-it works everytime, it shows me how they see the world, what their motivations are, and gives me more insight into their voice.

Bethany Wiggins said...

I have found when a character is giving me a hard time to delve into his past. Write short, brief stories of what has already happened to him in, say, kindergarten... his most embarrassing moment, his first crush.... To know your character's present, you have to know his past. Intimately.


Find the busiest train track you know of. Tie her to it. Make the knots realllly tight. Then sit and wait. When she hears that chug-a-lug-a-choo-choo coming, that bitch will talk.

(p.s. Sorry, Sarah. I meant it in the nicest way possible.)

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