Talking to Your Characters

Since I finished my last novel, Lady of the Revolution, I’ve been working on some revisions with my agent. Usually I enjoy revisions. I like the puzzle of fitting the changes in, finding places to add new scenes, filling in a hole of character development. This time, I found myself struggling, in part because I was facing a pretty significant issue: my main character’s personality wasn’t jumping off the page as early as it needed to. I needed more emotion in the story.

I mulled over the problem constantly, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. No brilliant ideas lit up my mind, despite feverish re-readings of the manuscript. Fortunately, I happened to read an article called “Emotional Work” on Writer Unboxed that helped me immensely. It came at the right time, with the right advice for my problem. It suggests imagining that you and your protagonist are sitting in a room, having a relaxed, stress-free interview. It sounded a bit odd to me at first, I’ll be honest. I sometimes joke about my characters taking over my head, but I’m still aware that it’s really just me, being imaginative. They aren’t separate entities. However, when I got to the suggested interview questions, the idea really struck a chord with me. I could immediately imagine Giselle, my protagonist, answering almost all of them. I selected a few that seemed especially relevant for my situation, and wrote them down by hand, eschewing my trusty keyboard for once. (Switching to writing by hand is another thing I do when I’m struggling with edits or a first draft. Changing things up just seems to help).

The answers came to me with surprising swiftness, and I learned some new things about my protagonist, including that she doesn’t like background music. Not hugely relevant to the plot, but interesting nonetheless, especially since I found myself turning off my own music sometimes while writing this book, which is not usual for me.

The questions I chose were:

If you could do anything in this story you wanted, what would it be?

Are you afraid I will humiliate you?

Whom are you most afraid to let down?

What am I not seeing about someone else in the story?

What does another character want to do that I’m not letting them?

What is this story about to you?

What am I missing? A fact about you?

 

This kind of looks how I imagined the parlour in my main character's house, and where the imaginary interview was conducted.

This kind of looks how I imagined the parlour in my main character’s house, and where the imaginary interview was conducted.

Each of the answers sparked an idea for a new scene or a few lines of dialogue to add. I worked them into the novel, and I think it made a big difference – I guess I will know for sure after I hear back from my agent, and find out if we’re going for another round of revisions or if this book is ready for submission. Either way, I think this method has changed the way I do revisions from now on.

Oh, and Giselle let me know in no uncertain terms that I’d humiliated her quite enough at the turning point of the book. I suppose I was a little mean to her, but it made her a better person in the end!

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