Nothing will pull me out of a story faster than a lack of character motivation. It’s a sure sign that the author didn’t listen to the characters. Sure characters can be obstinate, even infuriating at times, but they’re worth listening to, and here’s why:
Characters know more about themselves than the author does. Like an old friend, we think we know a character, but when we continue to listen to them, we continue to discover more about them. When we know our characters, getting deep into their histories and personalities, their likes and dislikes, they become real on the page, even when those details often don’t make it into the story.
When we listen to our characters they will tell us where the story needs to go. My latest work in progress has an ending that’s been rewritten twice and needs to be rewritten again, all because I failed to listen to my main character. Clearly she is smarter than me.
Breaking Writer’s Block
Characters don’t have the same hang-ups as writers. They don’t care if the story is good enough, or if it’s ‘The One’ which will finally catch the eye of a dream agent. Therefore, they have a clearer head so they don’t second guess themselves. They will continue to guide us through the story—if we are willing to listen.
Characters will act up even more when we don’t listen to them. Often we’ll end up with a bunch of rebellious characters who’ll refuse to play their part. So we might as well listen to them and save ourselves some grief.
Do you listen to your characters? If so, when do you listen to them?