“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Are You In A Complicated Relationship With Your Characters?

This guest post is by Devin Berglund. Devin is a writer, dreamer, wanderer & all-time enjoyer of life. She recently finished her novel, The Mason of Hearts, the first book in a Fantasy Adventure trilogy (she’s looking for an agent, by the way). You can find her on her blog, devinberglund.com, and on her Facebook Page. Thanks Devin!

I sat at the computer rubbing my brow. I’d written at least 60,000 words in my work in progress so far and my main character was still giving me a hard time. Others were having temper tantrums, standing in the shadowed corner of my mind with their arms crossed.

No matter what I did, they wouldn’t speak to me and they wouldn’t move from the shadows.

it's complicated

Photo by Cia de Foto

I followed all the tips I could find on inspiration and getting out of writer’s block, but I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t speaking to me. Have you ever felt this way? Or experienced something similar?

Three Steps to “Defining the Relationship” With Your Characters

When I found myself struggling with my characters, I decided to take a step back to reevaluate my story, the characters, and where they needed to go. It was then, that I realized a relationship with your characters is a lot like a dating relationship.

1.) Do you (the writer) need to get to know them better?

You need to know your characters inside and out. Do you know what they love and hate? How about what they want? If not, spend a little time with one character at a time and get to know them. Ask your character questions like you are meeting them for the first time, in a session of speed dating. Listen to what they say.

When you don’t know your characters you risk making a mess of things. Some writers get stuck in their manuscript and call it a writer’s block. Then they wander around lost without writing for days and even weeks, because they are blocked. I know many other writers who believe it’s because the writer doesn’t know their characters or the world in which they are writing, well enough.

2.) Are you (the writer) not listening to them?

Just as in any relationship, I am sure your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend would get mad if you didn’t listen to them. Right? Well, It is definitely the same for your characters.

This was one of my problems. I was not listening to my characters. I wrote what I wanted to, which resulted in my characters sulking in shadowy corners. But once I started another book involving the same characters – they started coming alive. They were no longer in a dark corner, because I was listening.

Sometimes I’d find myself writing something, to realize I hadn’t written it how my character would have said it. Then I’d delete it and take a deep breath before shutting my eyes to picture the scene. My fingers moved on the keyboard quickly. They were speaking.

When answering this question, it could result in minor or major dialogue and character changes like getting rid of a few characters or deleting half of your story/WIP. It could lead you into turning your book into a Trilogy, which is what happened to me.

I stepped back and realized my characters had more of a story to tell and they weren’t ready to show me the section I was writing about – yet. So, instead I set out to write the part they wanted me to write.

3.) Do they want to break up?

Is your character uninterested in your plot? Do they feel like this isn’t their story? Do they add to your story? Or do they resemble a cardboard cutout, adding nothing to your story?

I find this a difficult rule to practice, because who wants to breakup with a character? If your character isn’t fitting into or adding anything to your story then you may need to break up with them and focus on other characters that will add to your story.

PRACTICE

How about you? Take a little time to write from your character’s point of view. Answer the questions in your character’s point of view and when you are finished be sure to share what you’ve learned in the comments. And remember… have fun!

About Devin Berglund

This guest post is by Devin Berglund. Devin is a writer, dreamer, wanderer & all-time enjoyer of life. She recently finished her novel, The Mason of Hearts, the first book in a Fantasy Adventure trilogy (she's looking for an agent, by the way). You can find her on her blog, devinberglund.com, and on her Facebook Page.

  • AndiM

    THANK YOU. I’ve actually interviewed my characters (those are posted as blogs) and readers enjoy them as much as I did. I try to “talk” to my characters all the time and yes, I think it helps my creative process and it helps me work through problem areas in projects. And sometimes, yes, a character hasn’t worked for a project, but totally worked for something else. I really enjoyed this. Thanks again.

    • Yay! I am so happy you enjoyed this post! Isn’t it crazy how characters have minds of their own? Especially when you are writing the story they want to tell? haha! That is my favorite moment!!

  • Christine

    I really need to do this in the next few days. Nanowrimo starts tomorrow and I still have to spend ‘quality time’ with some of these people!

    • I’ve really found it to help!!! Christine, I hope you have a great time with Nano! 🙂

  • Devin, this is a great thoughtful post. Like Christine, I am doing nanowrimo for the first time. The novel has been waiting for five years while I have been writing non fiction and I’m excited to liberate it this month. When I asked my main character if she thought I was listening to her, here’s what she said – I couldn’t be more surprised…

    People say I’m patient. But I’m not. I pretend I’m a patient person just
    like I pretend I’m a happy one. Matthew doesn’t even know how I feel. Thirty
    eight years of marriage and he thinks I’m a satisfied, well adjusted wife and
    mother. If he could read my mind, he would have me locked up. Poor Matthew. He loves me. At least that’s what he says. Every day. Every night even when he’s out of town on business, he calls to make sure I know that he loves me. But I’m not sure about love. If it’s a real thing or if it’s like pretending to be patient.

    Yesterday while I was waiting to be served at the diner I’ve been going to every Tuesday for seven years, the waitress acted like I was invisible. After fifteen minutes of sitting and waiting and sighing loud enough to alert my cardiologist, I still didn’t have a menu. When an elderly woman walked passed my booth to pay for her lunch at the counter, I wanted to kick her. Hard. Maybe
    trip her. I’m not sure why I thought about that but I have been fantasizing a
    lot about kicking people within kicking distance. Maybe I need to feel something that’s real. A kick is real.

    • Awesome, Margaret! That is awesome!!! Your character started talking a lot!! I love how she wanted to kick people. I know that feeling. haha… I love your character’s personality!! I am sure she loves your full attention! 🙂

      So happy you found this post helpful! Keep up the great writing and have an awesome time with NaNoWriMo! It really is an awesome experience! I’m so excited for you! I will be participating as well! 🙂

      • thank you so much, Devin – I was laughing my head off when I wrote this – I knew she (Julia) pretended things were OK when they weren’t but I didn’t see the rest coming at all! Let’s cheer each other on for November. I am storycatcher60 – good luck!

        • I loved her voice! haha! It’s just so much fun to see them come alive, isn’t it? haha…

          Yes, let’s cheer each other along! I am devinberglund. I’ll add ya as a buddy! 🙂

  • Bob

    Thanks! I’ve had to break up with a few characters. Always for the best. They end up in other stories, even starring in their own.

    • It is always for the best, isn’t it? It can be hard sometimes, but you are definitely correct in saying that sometimes they end up starring in their own stories! 😀 Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Mande78

    In preparing fro NaNoWriMo I’m trying to spend quality time with my charachters, but the day job is getting in my way. This was a great post. Think I have a character I need to breakup with presently. Thanks.

    • I totally know what you mean about being busy! But, I know you can do it! Have a great time with NaNoWriMo! Sooo happy the post helped you!

  • Journey

    This has been my exact problem lately. No matter how hard I try my main character will not tell me how his daughter died. In the past parts of the story I have been able to take a step back and let the characters take me through the story. But not this scene. It just will not come. I would love not to have to kill the daughter but it is a major plot point. It is a major step in how the main character defines himself because he knows he is the reason his daughter is gone. Maybe I do need to listen to him better. Maybe he is not the reason she is gone, maybe he only thinks he is the reason. You know what that gives me an idea….

    • Hahaha!!! I love your thought process here! Sometimes our characters are really tricky and will only open up when we are really listening to them. I am glad this post was helpful. Hope your character is speaking. 🙂

    • Kathy

      This is at the same point I am about have the main character’s mom die but I don’t know how to make it give it the dominance it should have. I’ll have to listen to my character more and press forward. Great post.

  • Christy

    What a great article! I am so stuck in this place right now. I too am getting ready for NaNo and have to admit I am completely terrified! This article couldn’t have come at a better time.

    • Christy, I am so happy you found this article helpful! Hope your characters become very talkative. Let them tell you their story! 🙂

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  • Terrie Coleman

    Loved your post, Devin. I also have been getting to know my characters better before NaNo starts at midnight tonight! I’m excited! See you on NaNo! Blessings.

    • Hello Terrie,
      Happy you enjoyed the post! Hope you have a great first day of NaNo! 🙂 Blessings. 🙂

  • Deborah

    Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou Devin. I’m so glad you’ve voiced what I have found myself in writing – our characters take on a life of their own, and sometimes simply won’t behave and do what they’re told. I had roughed-out my complete novel, and on writing the first draught, my characters all stood and shook their heads at me, then slowly, each revealed who they really were. As I wrote, my characters lives often went off on a tangent, and helplessly, I had to follow.

    You have now given me cause to consider whether one or two of my characters could do with a furlough, for which I may be eternally indebted to you!

    • YAY! I am so happy to hear that this post helped you. I am so excited for you! Keep writing. 🙂

  • Oh, look at that note I just want a bite gently into the other’s face only gradually. Ask away too. Thankyou Devin. I’m so glad you’ve voiced what I
    have found myself in writing – our characters take on a life of their
    own, and sometimes simply won’t behave and do what they’re told.

    • I am so happy the post helped you! 🙂 Isn’t it exciting when they take on their own lives? Keep writing!!

  • Rosalind Minett

    Oh I have trouble with my characters all the time. They dominate me. Have a look at my Me-Time blog where it’s them, not me, who have the dialectic. http:\fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com

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  • Katie Milton

    Devin,

    Great post! I loved your ideas and the practical tips that you offered! Will definitely be using the advice that you shared!

    Thanks,
    Katie

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