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?

19 comments:

  1. We must be a lot alike. I always thought I was an empathetic listener until I read a book that showed me otherwise. I'm learning. . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hope I am. I try to write as true to character as possible, but sometimes I guess I can force my characters into certain situations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And to me that's the key - not forcing the characters because then it doesn't read authentic.

      Delete
  3. That's good advice. And something I should internalize because I think I'm a bit like you. I like to point out the downside, the possible pitfalls, and the flip-side--effectively crushing dreams and discouraging everyone along the way. But what can I say? I'm a realist. And a writer introvert. Welcome, Kindred Spirit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That realism thing is the downer, isn't it?

      Delete
  4. I think I am. I certainly hope I am. I think it's one of the most important traits a human can have. I do interject a lot of myself into my characters though. It's only natural to take your life experience and filter it through them. But still, they have to have their own heart and soul, so to speak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to be a mediator for the local court system - and in that situation I was an excellent listener (I was paid to be) - it's just dealing with those people I know as well as my own skin that it's tougher :0).

      Delete
  5. Great discovery, Jaye! Awesome post.

    It's something I've learned the rough way too, that it's more important to be true to the point-of-view character's mentality in any given moment than to your own. And this teaches us a whole damn lot about our own lives too.

    My protag becoming unreliable throughout the course of the story has forced me to get much deeper into the marrow of the story, and it has also helped me get a much better understanding of where it goes and what I can do to make it work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well that is the reverse of usual isn't it? What a cool challenge to write.

      Delete
  6. Great advice, Jaye. I know I've struggled with "is this your personal voice, or your character's?" syndrome.

    I think being aware that it happens is the first step in making sure it doesn't continue. (Er, how about I state the obvious here? LOL!) But I find I still need to be vigilant.

    I also think it depends on who the character is. When I write from my Templeton's POV, I get to be as a@@-hole-y as I want to be. Whereas in my own personal world, I often bite my tongue. When I put on my Templeton hat, I let 'er rip! ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well that's another bonus - getting to play out characters, think like somebody else - I love writing villains for this reason.

      Delete
  7. Oh man, I have this exact same problem. Unfortunately it's throughout my entire MS. Oops.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In real life I'm a good listener. But as a writer I'm in take charge mode. I really need to listen to my characters more. Thanks for this post. Great reminder.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I try to write from inside my characters so I get their emotional nuances right as they progress through a scene, so that their words and actions are believably motivated, etc. I suppose that's why I write so blamed SLOW.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very nice blog. I am following you now. Please drop by to Carole's Chatter and check it out. You might like to drop by and check out my Books You loved series. The new edition for August is now live. If you like my blog it would be great if you followed me back. Have a good week.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm definitely a good listener in real life, but concerning my characters, I think I need to work a bit more on that. I think it definitely helps you to get to know your characters and that's important. Great post! I'm following.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice to meet you, Jadzia! Any relatives in Atlanta? I have a friend with the same last name (from WV originally)

      Delete
    2. That's really neat. Atlanta: not that I'm aware of. There are plenty of Brandlis around though. Great to meet you, too!

      Delete

Hey, do you ever wonder why they call it 'your two cents?'