(Side note: Do you know how troublesome it is to find a picture of someone bound and/or gagged that doesn’t look…well, inappropriate for this blog? *snicker*)
Writers all know the type—the character who refuses to play by the rules, who doesn’t communicate with us, or who wants to be a scene-stealer. These characters can drive us crazy with their antics. Whether we’re drafting or editing, they interrupt our groove and mess up our word count.
I’ve experienced it all:
- I’ve had the heroine who didn’t let me into her head at all. (“What do you mean you’re not going to tell me why you did that?”)
- I’ve had the heroine who was too embarrassed to describe an incident for a scene. (“Come on, please tell me. Pretty please with sugar on top?”)
- I’ve had the hero who purposely revealed where the villain could find the heroine. (“You did what?”)
- I’ve had the minor character hijack my brain until I agreed to share his story too. (*sigh* “Fine, you’re right. It is a compelling tale.”)
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, the inside of my head really does sound like that. I have an “interesting” relationship with my muse. *smile* See Do You Have a Muse? for proof.)
So how can we deal with these characters? How can we get them—and us—back on track?
Approaches for Dealing with Difficult Characters
Here are some ways I’ve dealt with difficult characters. Please share your ideas in the comments.
- Ask Other Characters
When a character refused to tell me what happened in a scene, I found a witness (another character) who’d seen enough of the incident to give me something to go on. Faced with the incriminating facts, she finally spilled her guts. Often, we need only a hint for our muse to take the idea and run with it.
- Brainstorm with Others
Ask family, friends, beta readers, or critique partners for their help. Men can give a female writer insight into “the male mind” and vice versa. Even without the whole scene and backstory information, other people might have ideas that can kick our muse into gear.
- Listen to Our Characters
Maybe they’re being difficult for a reason. Maybe they don’t like what we’re having them do, so they’re refusing to cooperate. Often, “writer’s block” is nothing more than our subconscious telling us there’s a problem, and if we ask our characters for guidance, they’ll get us back on track.
- Have Characters Interview Each Other
When a character won’t communicate with us, see if they’ll talk to someone else. Have another character ask them what their issue is, or what they want and why. This doesn’t have to be a written scene that will stay in the story, but even a mental interview might help.
- Lie, er, Promise to Give Them What They Want
For my brain hijacker, I had to promise that he would be a recurring character in the series and a major-ish player in a future subplot. He’s still gunning for a short story along the line, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.
- Try It Their Way
If a character’s actions mess up the story, see how “their way” plays out. Sometimes, they’ll come up with better plot complications than I could on my own. But I’d advise giving them only one scene or so to prove themselves, as we don’t want to have to rewrite half the book for this experiment.
[Edited to add these suggestions from Shain Brown‘s comment:]
- Try to Dream about the Character or Scene
This one has worked for me before as well, so I’m glad Shain reminded me of it. Recently, I knew I needed to add more external conflict to a scene, so I told myself to come up with a solution while I slept. When I woke, I had the answer. Like magic. *smile*
- Free Write with a Different Medium
As Shain said below, “I pull out a spiral notebook, my favorite pen, and stretched out to write. I wrote about her and the story, but not necessarily anything in particular from the book.”
- Rework the Plot Outline
Maybe our subconscious is trying to tell us something, like needing more conflict, or a different conflict. Or maybe there’s more to a character’s backstory we haven’t uncovered yet. Sometimes a planned subplot doesn’t fit. Re-examining a plot outline can help with these problems.
Some of these approaches might work better for plotters, and some might work better for pantsers, but they’ve all helped me at some point. Yet even with all those tools, I still have issues with my characters, so I’m eager to hear your ideas.
Do you have difficult characters? How did you deal with them? What made them difficult? Have any of these methods worked for you? Do you have other approaches to add to the list?Pin It