What to Do When Your Characters Won't Talk to You
The other day, I was writing. Everything was going swimmingly. Words were flowing. I could hear my characters in my head. Things were good. And then, suddenly, things came to a screeching halt. My characters went silent.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. I’ve been through periods, both long and short, where my characters absolutely refused to talk to me. It’s disconcerting and frustrating. I’m telling their story. You’d think this is something they would want to help with. But yelling at them does no good. Believe me. I’ve tried. So, what to do in this situation? The answer is not always the same.
Sometimes it’s a matter of headspace – that I’m preoccupied with something else and can’t hear them over the noise. In this case I have to deal with whatever the other thing is so that I can concentrate, either by physically doing something about it (like paying my bills, or cleaning the house) or by working on solving the problem.
Sometimes my characters seem to get tongue tied. It’s like they can’t talk to me because they can’t verbalize whatever it is we’re dealing with or how their feeling. In this case I go for a walk. Physical movement usually shakes something loose. Or I’ll close up shop for the day and leave a question hanging. Usually by the time I come back the next day, or even two days later, the answer appears and we can carry on.
Sometimes it’s a sign that I’ve done too much and it’s time to take a break. My characters can sense that anything else I write that day isn’t going to be very coherent so they stop talking to me.
And sometimes I can’t work out why it happens. I try all of the above and nothing works. It’s like inspiration has left the building and won’t be back until it’s damn good and ready. Patience and compassion are the only two options in this situation. If it’s really gone the only thing to do is work on something else and trust that if it’s meant to come back it will.
In my most recent situation, it was actually none of the above. I checked my thought train for distractions, nothing. I went for a walk, nothing. I was about to give up for the day when I realized, I had stopped listening to them. I was talking over them. Why should they talk to me if I had all the answers? I sat quietly with my fingers poised over the keyboard. A few minutes ticked by, but it worked. Once it was clear I was ready to listen, they started talking to me again.
It’s so easy to get carried away and assume I know best. This goes for both my writing and my interactions with other people in real life. It’s so easy to forget to listen. But things are so much richer if I can remember to let others get a word in edgewise.