~ By Terri Osburn
Trust Your Characters!
Many moons ago, I found a blog written by Sherrilyn Kenyon, in which she talked about trusting her characters to tell the story. I was a confused newbie who had no grasp on how to get into my characters’ heads, but this idea stuck with me. Now I consider it the best bit of advice I ever read.
The truth is, the characters know their story better than you do. They are the ones living it, after all. I know the times I get stuck are the moments when I’m certain I know exactly what happens next, but the scene just won’t work. In nearly every instance, the problem is me trying to force my characters to do something they wouldn’t do.
Sometimes, it’s something simple. Very early in my writing journey, I struggled to write a scene in which the heroine arrived to work late. Three tries, and nothing was working. Then I wrote the scene with her arriving on time, and voila!
Sometimes, it’s a bigger issue. More recently, I thought I knew what the black moment would be for a book, then when I got there, it wouldn’t happen. This time I was on deadline, so I needed to solve the problem fast.
I went back and read the entire MS up to that point, then started typing, not even sure where I was going. But I trusted that the characters would take over. The scene poured onto the page, the black moment was the opposite of what I’d envisioned, and by some bit of magic, I’d foreshadowed it through the entire story.
Now, I know what you’re saying. But HOW do I do that? Hmmm… good question.
The best answer I can think of is to spend a lot of time with the characters. Like, A LOT. The more you know about them—their past, their dreams, and their fears—the easier this will be. It’s a combination of preparation and time. I interview my characters before writing a single word, and it’s important to let them answer the questions, not answer for them.
Which makes me sound like a crazy person, but as fellow writers, I think you’ll get my meaning. Be open. Though they live in your head, they are not you. They’re individuals with ideas and experiences of their own. I don’t know what it’s like to lose my parents at a young age, but the heroine of my first Anchor Island book does. I’ve never lost a child, but the hero of my first Ardent Springs book (coming May 2015) has.
And I’m sure you haven’t experienced everything that your characters have, but if you trust them, they will help you use those experiences to tell their story. As with anything in life, if you hold on too tight, you can’t enjoy it. You stifle it. A story needs room to breathe. Characters want to be heard.
So listen. And trust them. I know this sounds like some new-age woo-woo stuff, but that’s what’s so great about writing. The woo-woo is where the magic is. Embrace the woo-woo, my friends. Trust is everything.
Terri Osburn is author of the bestselling Anchor Island series of contemporary romance. She is a 2012 Golden Heart finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category, and represented by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates. She lives in Virginia Beach with her teenage daughter, three frisky felines, and one hyper Yorkie-poo.
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