Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Sharon Wildwind
Monologue, anyone?

I’m not talking about that tiresome situation where the heroine, after driving to the deserted warehouse at midnight—without her cell phone, which she forgot to recharge—is confronted by the murderer, who delivers an 11-page monologue to tie up every loose thread in the book, except maybe one tiny element needed for the denouement.

I’ve got this ever-evolving system for character development. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a few major points, and then dive into the writing. Sometimes I find a character so interesting that I’ll go for pages, knowing virtually none of what I discover will make it into the book. I figure it’s my time and if a long character development makes me happy, why not?

Lately my character development has sucked. What dominant impression does the character make? Write a answer. What jobs does the character have in this book? Write another answer. Boring. I’d gotten stale doing the same thing for too long time, but I didn’t know what else to do. I might have been getting boring answers, but at least I was getting answers.

Except, after a while, the answers stopped. I tried writing with no character development, which was interesting, but neither satisfying nor productive. What I was writing was as dull as dishwater.

A writing teacher, who I respect for a lot of things, suggested that I write characters monologue. Oh, please. What possible good could that do?

I got desperate. Monologging wasn’t going to work, but it was at least more active than staring at a blank screen. So I said to a character, “Talk to me. Say anything. Just keep talking.”

The first thing that happened was I began to hear their individual voices. Accent. Timber. Pitch. Word patterns. Vocabulary.

The second thing was that I stopped focusing on events and started focusing on emotional reactions. I discovered that where I’d gotten off track was that I’d become more interested in the answers to questions than what the answers meant to the characters.

I also discovered that I'd been so focused on getting the answers right that I'd put on blinders. I was missing a whole lot of peripheral material that would make a better story, if I just paid attention to it.

I’m pleased to report that I now have a new stable of strong, interesting characters, whom I like, and I’m ready for a summer of writing.

So the writing teacher was right, and I was wrong. Monologging could do a lot of good. Give it a try.
Quote for the week
Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.
~Sharon O'Brien, life writer, biographer, and teacher


Sheila Connolly said...

I know I have a tendency to make my characters do whatever it is that advances the plot. Then an editor comes along as says, "why didn't she just do this?" which then appears painfully obvious.

Which is not always bad, but you have to give the reader enough insight into that character to make her actions plausible. It can be something as simple as: she didn't go to the police because the last time she did, they laughed at her and sent her home. Her avoidance of the police now is not necessarily rational or appropriate, but it is believable.

I know what you mean about "hearing" their voices (try it when they've got an accent!).

Sandra Parshall said...

When a critiquer -- or, worse, my editor -- says, "Rachel/Tom wouldn't do that," my first defensive reaction is to think, I know my characters better than you do! Then I realize the complaint is accurate and I've been guilty of making a character do something simply to advance the plot. I have to go back and get in touch with what the character is feeling in that scene. I have to shut up and listen to the character's voice.

LD Masterson said...

I'm wrestling with characterization in a WIP right now. I'll give this a try.

Anonymous said...

Aren't characters pesky things. It's a good thing that we love them so much.

LD, if I can help with your characterization, get in touch.