Tuesday, May 21

Getting Over Writer's Block: Listen To Your Characters

Yesterday I wrote about world building because I was stuck on my WIP. I thought world building was my problem but it wasn't. I wasn't listening to my characters.

I'm writing a murder mystery and the problem was that I couldn't get my sleuth to talk.

I'd written practically all the murderer's scenes up to the midpoint and had a good outline for where I would go after that, but I was nervous because I'd only written one scene with the sleuth and that scene was mediocre.

I loved my murderer with all his flaws, I felt I knew him. He was the hero of his own story, but he'd made some bad decisions. The sleuth, on the other hand, hid behind a veil. I couldn't reach him, couldn't understand him.

It was a problem, especially since I have a schedule and a daily word count and I just can't afford this thing called 'being blocked'.

Well ...

I woke up this morning, started reading, and BAM! it hit me: I needed to write the sleuth's scenes through another character's eyes. I needed a Watson. A Hastings. When I figured that out I could write. It was like a damn burst.

So, here's my take away from this experience:

Listen to your characters

When I'm blocked on a story I'm blocked for a reason.

In this instance, I hadn't taken the time to be still and listen to the sleuth. After I started writing again the sleuth told me things about himself that surprised me. I had completely missed one of his most important characteristics: his anger over a great loss he suffered. Not sadness, anger.

Then it made sense.

I've talked about listening to your characters. There are many, many, writing exercises you could do to help with this, but here's the one I did:

I added a POV character, the sleuth's sidekick, and then chose a scene. I chose one that involved something the sidekick had to do, and started to write. At some point I started to see her, her red hair, her white freckled skin, her long fingers as she slid them along the polished mahogany of the spiral staircase.

And then she was in a room with him, with my sleuth, and they were arguing. She was saying all those things to him she'd kept bottled up ... and it turned out to be a great scene that was fun to write. And I was surprised by a couple of things the characters said, things that made perfect sense once I'd written them down, but I had no thought of them before the exercise.

Writing is kinda magical. And cool. Very cool.

If you've had writers block in the past, what have you done to get over it and get back writing?

Photo credit: "g wie grashalme" by fRedi under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.


  1. Writing is magical and cool! I love it when things come out about characters that I didn't know myself!

    One of my best such moments was when I was blocked, in the middle of NaNo, and I needed something to write! I had no idea what I was going to do, so I bought back a character I had said all along was dead. Turns out he wasn't, and it's been one of the best moves I made. It shaped the whole rest of the story, and in a really good way.

    1. "Writing is magical and cool! I love it when things come out about characters that I didn't know myself!"

      Me too! And it makes writing SO much easier.

      "I bought back a character I had said all along was dead."

      Ah! Clever. Since you didn't know you'd be doing that there's no way your reader could anticipate it, and you had time to go back and make sure bringing them back in would make sense.

      I'll have to remember that tip. :-)

  2. Very cool solution. Looking forward to seeing this story.

    1. Thanks Jazz! I wrote this story under a pen name, but perhaps one day. :-)

  3. You know, I've never thought about writing a scene from another characters perspective in order to learn about my main character.

    I have a current WIP that's stalled, and I might try this out. Thanks for the tips! Can't wait to read more.

    1. "You know, I've never thought about writing a scene from another characters perspective in order to learn about my main character."

      Honestly, I hadn't either! Not before that day.

      I often read for a half hour or so before I write as a kind of warm up and, just by chance, I read a scene from the POV of a female character talking to one of the main characters.

      It came to me in one of those wonderful flashes of insight: I needed to add a female sidekick and use her POV rather than the sleuth's. So far (* knock on wood *) it's been working. :-)

      That's another benefit of reading when you write! (grin)

  4. Ha! This happened to me yesterday. The first two books in my Isobel Spice mystery series are told from alternating POVs: my office temp sleuth and her temp agent/Watson/possible romantic interest. But they're a little estranged at the beginning of my current WIP and, 20K words in, I'd still not written in his POV, although she talked about him a fair amount. I knew he'd be back--I was planning for midway through the book, when she suddenly found she needed him.

    But yesterday, he asserted himself and showed up earlier than I'd planned with a chance encounter on the street. I realized that instinctively I was ready for a change in POV and that it was a better setup for the moment when she needed him if they'd already had an awkward encounter, so off I went, following James's lead!

    1. Isn't it great when your characters take over and let you know what the story needs?!

      I'd never thought of having a sleuth as an office temp but I love the idea.

      All the best.


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