Monday, August 6, 2012
Being a Good Listener - Characters Included
Being a teacher is great, but sometimes it's like pouring salt on people's wounds. You see, I have this need to inform, to enlighten, to share great snippets of information. I think in terms of "Gee, well I would have wanted to know that." Unfortunately, it can sometimes come across as bossy or belittling.
It's a common fight in my household. Sweetie gets excited about something and I fall into teacher mode, "Well, have you thought about this, this, this, or this?" Sweetie slumps -- I've done it again crushed a dream, an excitement, by trying to be helpful.
In this latest round of You Crush My Dreams, we were lucky enough to distill it down to its essence. I'm a bad listener. Not always mind you. In social situations I tend to be quiet and observant, the typical introvert writer. But in one-on-one or familiar situations, I often answer questions related on my own STUFF - either what I know, what I'd want to know, or the infinite baggage of my lofty Southern belle upbringing. (The You Should Dilemma)
What does this have to do with writing? (You knew I'd get there, didn't you?) -- well, in my case it has to do with finally being at a place where I am writing from my characters. Of course, self interjects itself through life experience and my unique voice and take on the world, but I have finally started listening to my characters.
Here's an example. A recent critique partner pointed out that my MC was comparing a Philly accent to a NY accent and they are nothing the same. Me, myself, wanted to fix it - I jumped into that "Oh, I'm a perfectionist, this must be perfect!" mode. But then I stopped and thought, now Amber (my MC) - have you ever been to either of those places? "Are you stupid?" she replied. Then I thought, Would you know the difference between those two accents?. "Come on, what do you think? The farthest away I've ever been is Charlotte on a school field trip. Yankee's yankee as far as I'm concerned." So I left it. I listened to my character, not my own internal voice of how it should be.
What I've found, by really listening to my characters, is that I wiggle my way closer to the heart of the story. To what they want to tell me. And only when I find that beating heart, do I know I'm close to finding what I want to say.
Thoughts? Your experiences? Are you a good listener?