Character Issues (See My Pun There?)

They say the characters are what drive the story. The characters are the ones you fall in love with, who you know so well you can finish their sentences for them. They say the characters are the things that keep you coming back, yearning for more.

But what happens when the characters just don’t comply? They don’t become that little voice in your head, like a second part of you, urging you on, begging you to write. Their voices are totally silent, or nonexistent. Are they real, just like every other character? Or are they something forced, something I pushed life into with a sledgehammer? The characters should have voices, they say. But what if mine do not? What if mine are lifeless and flat, and boring? What if my characters are just long streaks of nothing? They can’t be, because if they were, what would happen to my novel? It would be flat.

What I didn’t realize is that they had always been there, quiet voices, soft voices, but people in their own right nonetheless. From my first-ever main characters, Lily Gonestar and Talim Kryer, the characters had told the stories themselves. Lily whispered in my ear, telling me just what she would like to say, every word, ever syllable, passing between her perfect teeth before they poured out through my inky expression. I could have told you what she would have said for anything. Lily was optimistic and perfect. Talim was indecisive, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed. He was seventeen years old, and to him, nothing in life was worth living for. Except his sister.

And then there came Breeze. After two years, she was the first one in a long time. Soft, too, and quiet, softer than both Lily and Talim had been. My previous characters had grown loud. I was used to it. I could see Breeze, but I could not hear her voice.

To me, she had no voice. She was that character. That long streak of nothing that ruined the perfect novel. But I pushed through, pounded it into her like a sledgehammer, made her tell her story for me. And by the end, her voice was loud. I went back, and I reread, and awful though the plot was, I could sense her. I could tell when she was writing words, even when she didn’t mention her name, or when she was speaking. Breeze was a person, unloved and cynical because of it.

And then there’s Mel. I can feel her. She’s a loud, strong voice. She wasn’t soft, not ever. And I hope she will never have to be.

Looking back, I wonder if I can still write Talim, or Lily, or even Breeze, for the most part. Have all moved on? Perhaps. But if our paths cross again, it will be because their voices are loud again. And if they ask me, I will make sure their voices will never, ever be silent again.

Don’t fear. Your characters will speak to you. You just have to learn how to listen.

15 responses to “Character Issues (See My Pun There?)

  1. Interesting article…I love how you can “feel” the characters. I do too..Isn’t it fun “talking” to them? Way more fun than some “real” people sometimes…that’s why, I call my obsession, “Writing Neurosis”. Good luck! You seem to be a very promising writer!

  2. I haven’t had a character yet that I couldn’t hear, but if I did I know I’d be like you and never give up on them and keep working until I heard their voice speaking through the silence.

    • I have had one or two, but I have always gravitated away from starring them in their own novels. There were a few in the beginning where I liked the idea and the name, but couldn’t hear them.
      And I loved what I did with Breeze, because she is honestly the most unique, cynical character I have ever written… It was worth it the whole way 😀

    • Yes! I love learning that. It’s lovely that the voices always come back, and I have learned to trust them and count on them. They make the whole process worthwhile.

      – Sabrina

  3. I never thought of it like that. Sometimes Zack doesn’t talk to me, and it becomes so hard to write. I keep guessing and writing until something fits and move on. Zack is not shy or quiet. He is the loud, overly friendly, exuberant hero. But after I broke him it became really hard to write. He lost himself and I lost him too. I was writing not-Zack for one chapter and that was horrible for both of us :/ But that chapter aside, there are still periods where I can’t hear him. And if I wait until he speaks then the chapter doesn’t get written. I don’t even know why it happens, but it does. Not like I can force him to cooperate XD

    • When characters sort of run away and stop speaking to you, for a while, you have to just push on and continue to write. If you didn’t, I guess you would never bond with that character. If I keep pushing them, then sometimes, they’ll listen to me, they’ll like what I have to say, and they will grant me the permission of writing their story in words.

      I think it’s a tricky issue. I love my characters, and my characters love me. But sometimes, they just need a break from me, and I need a break from them.

      I really think its the character. Mel doesn’t need any persuasion, and neither did Lily. Talim came to me because he needed help, and I went to Breeze. I met each of my characters in a different way, and it sort of defined them as people. The way they interact with me depends on the way I met them and first interacted with them.

      I myself sort of shape their future, although they were people in their own right before me.

      I think I just wrote another blog post! Thanks for the thoughtful comment 🙂

      – Sabrina

  4. I love this! Thanks for sharing! I wish my characters were as cooperative as you. But then again, I might start answering back to them and that’s not good LOL.

    • Yeah, sometimes they just don’t want to speak. Honestly, I would be scared if some of my characters, like Breeze, let me write them as easily as Lily or Talim did. Lily was oddly cooperative.
      If I answered back to my characters… Well. Not good things. 😛

      – Sabrina

    • Hmm. I’ve never had that problem. I don’t like planning my characters, I feel like I’m taking the life out of them if I do. If I plan them out, they never really work that well.
      Strangely my secondary characters are often more developed than my characters, especially if I write the MC from first-person. Maybe it’s because I get to see them from a different point of view than they actually are in and I get to analyze them, or something…?
      Anyways, I guess everyone’s character voices are different!
      Thanks! The community here is great! 😀
      – Sabrina

  5. It took me a long time to understand what people meant when they said their characters were speaking to them. It was refreshing, though, to know that if I put them in a situation and they reacted in a way they wouldn’t, I could hear in my head, “They wouldn’t do that,” and it would bother me until I changed it.

    We writers are insane! 😀

    • For a long time, I just didn’t understand the terminology other people were using to describe this, and I went through the same thing you did.

      Yes, we most definitely are! 😀

      – Sabrina

  6. Pingback: What’s Up Wednesday Week 3 | In Loving Memory | Books and Bark·

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