Writing Tip: Can’t Get a Character to Talk? Get a Thesis

So I have been . . . absent. Sort of. By absent, I mostly mean that I have not been posting much on this blog. If you follow the Sarcastic Muse, then you probably catch me over there once a week or so. (I attempt to write coherent posts about editing and such. Conclusive evidence that any of it is useful cannot be provided.)

But I’ve got to get back on board with this writing gig, so I’m here to dazzle you all with my tales of interesting . . . okay, no, interesting probably isn’t the right word.

To be fair, I have been writing lately. I have been writing a lot, a lot, a lot.

About Estonian poetry.


Shh . . .  Don't tell her I'm here. Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Shh . . . Don’t tell her I’m here.
(This is not the character in question.)
Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Somewhere in the midst of my research, I finally started reading a book I’ve been deliberately not reading for two years. Mostly because I had it only in Estonian, and let’s just say this is not the kind of topic you want to read in a foreign language unless you have an affinity for headaches and a desire to kill things. Needless to say, I realized that perhaps the author — in all his talk of signs and signifiers and structure of the text (see Juri Lotman for more details) — was on to something. Something that I could actually use for my novel. (Thesis? What thesis?)

And the novel I’d had percolating in my head for a year and a half came tumbling forward at full speed, as if it had been parked in a garage somewhere in the back of my brain and had suddenly been hit with dynamite. Yes, almost two years ago, I started a (rather bad) novel about . . . stuff. It was sort of a fantasy, sort of a sci-fi novel. Actually, the fact that I can’t tell you exactly what it was about should raise a red flag. That’s why I stuffed it in the mental garage in the first place.

But it had a character I liked loved got along with. One that I wanted to give the right story. She just didn’t seem to know what her story was yet. Which was fine. I’m patient understanding capable of attempting to accommodate characters. I had other projects, anyway.

Well . . . characters are vindictive. We all know that. I shouldn’t really be surprised by what my own are capable of given that they are born from the strange, spinning dark hole I call my mind. But this one? She’d been quiet for a year and a half. The second my thesis had a definitive deadline with an end in sight, I couldn’t get her to stop talking. She’s still talking. (Note: she can’t even talk — she’s mute.)

(That doesn’t stop her.)

(Seriously, I have been having strange dreams lately.)

She’s been so loud for the past week that I had to actually stop writing the thesis to appease her.

(Yes, yes, I’m back to working on the thesis now.)

So there you have it. I have answered the problems of writers everywhere. Having trouble writing your novel? Don’t know where it’s going? Characters not talking?

Step One: Start writing a thesis.
Step Two: Procrastinate.
Step Three: Get serious about completing it. Try to stay on task.
Step Four: Problem solved. (You’ll just have different ones.)

Have any instances you can share when the characters kept interfering with your everyday life?


5 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Can’t Get a Character to Talk? Get a Thesis

  1. You have struck a nerve with me Michelle, on many different levels 😉 First, the cat. Yes, we have a cat that does the same thing. Well, actually, we have four cats, and I believe that most of the time, if I get stuck, all I need to do is sit back and watch them for five minutes and some idea will come steamrolling through my mind. Even if this is not a certainty, it is most certainly always an amusing five minutes 🙂

    Second, the whole mental garage thing. You know how some people have their garages stuffed with junk and need to do a spring cleaning every year to re-organize. Yep, that’s me, sort of. Well, I can’t do that with writing. I shift stuff around, but I never clear it out. If I have an idea for something, there is a reason I had it in the first place. It just hasn’t found its place in my world yet. Like your character, it will speak when it is ready – and often at the most “inconvenient” times 😉

    Which leads me to my last point – control. Yes, I am a control freak of sorts. I like to know what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. Couple that with perfectionist tendencies and you get a recipe for nothing ever getting written and published (even if it is only on a blog read by a handful of people). My saving grace has been my philosophical mind, allowing it to wander in different places from time to time. It has allowed me to understand that the only way to gain any semblance of control is to let go of it (within reason, of course). It is usually when I release my stranglehold on stagnant ideas that they come to life again, like water meeting a resurrection fern. No thesis required, thank goodness for me 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Michelle, I always appreciate reading your work whether editorial, inspirational, or anywhere in between . Keep it coming – keep writing 🙂

    • Oh, four cats! I firmly believe that every writer needs a cat. I could spend all day watching them. Littles (the cat in the picture who is, in fact, not little at all) has a way with boxes. And rugs. And curtains. And socks. And harassing my other much more mellow and well-behaved cat. In fact, if he had a resume, his job title would be Master of Destruction. The skills section would probably say: Has cute pink nose and can get away with murder. Sleeps like the dead. Can fetch. Can somehow teleport.

      Looky there, I’ve already got the makings of a story.

      Some people have vast and full mental garages. It sounds like you’re one of them, which is great! The other Muses over at TSM tend to be that way, too. Lots and lots of ideas. More than they’ll ever write in a lifetime. But I’m the opposite. I don’t hold on to ideas I don’t think I’ll use. Those ideas that I do keep, however, tend to take some time to manifest. While some people do pre-writing or get their ideas out on paper, I work through my novel subconsciously. Which is fine . . . until it dings when I’m in the middle of my thesis.

      But as you said, releasing a stranglehold on those ideas is crucial for allowing them to manifest. I definitely can relate to the perfectionist tendencies. One way of letting go, for me at least, is to switch projects. Which is one of the reasons I think the thesis has helped to advance the development of the story. I have to get the thinking, controlling mind focused on something else, so the creative subconscious can do its thing.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing! Always a pleasure!

      • Heh, heh, heh … our youngest cat is named Muffin, but her nickname which only the literary conscious folks would understand is Lord Voldemort. She seems to have many of the same “talents” as your Littles. She can be undeniably adorable one minute and pure evil (in only a way cats can) the next – curtains, comforters, sheets, boxes, other cats, even imaginary objects that escape our human muggle vision 😉

        I think you bring up some good points about holding on too long. I think that’s one of the things that stresses me out. As with so many things in life, it’s sometimes difficult to let go, even when it is necessary. This probably applies to many of my ideas. I’m not going to toss them out the window at the drop of a hat, but maybe a little spring cleaning – er, I guess it would be winter cleaning – should be in order from time to time.

        It’s funny you bring up the difference between pre-writing and working subconsciously. I don’t write anything down before I compose a piece – ever. Well, I tried it once or twice and it was too stressful and unproductive for me. I tend to let ideas swim around in my mind until they coalesce into something tangible that can be funneled out of my head, through my fingertips, and on to the page.

        Thanks for the additional tips that you may or may not have intentionally sprinkled in your response. And sorry for rambling on for another couple paragraphs. I blame it on the cats 🙂

  2. First, this must be International Unwarranted Mea Culpa Day since both you and Amanda have presented unneeded apologies. That aside, and in answer to your question, the main reason I’ve gotten serious about my fiction again is not fame, money, or in hopes of appearing sexy to my wife. No, it’s because my characters have been making me miserable for *years.* They never shut up. They come up with clever lines; they feed me isolated plot twists; the point out places, when I’m driving around, that would made great settings for this or that climactic scene. I’m totally serious. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had one character or another scurrying around in my head. So I realized it was either get treatment for dissociative disorder, or start writing and making my life bearable. Plus it’s immensely satisfying to be able to say to a character residing in my brain, “Come on in. Pull us a chair. What did you have in mind?” And since whatever we choose to do with our time leads to one problem or another, my advice to you is, Enjoy! (BTW, Lotman sounds kind of like Saussure or Bakhtin in Estonian. Yow!)

  3. Haha, it’s so true! It’s always when I’m under pressure to complete something else that those dang characters come out of the woodwork and start demanding attention. And there’s really no ignoring them, no matter how pressing anything else in your life might be. Great post. Best of luck with your thesis!

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