If you’re an author, aspiring or otherwise, those voices probably won’t stay silent. If you’re like me, sometimes they become a cacophonous racket that keeps pounding at your writer’s brain, a continuous call for attention. For some authors, these voices are an inspiration, the muse that guides them to powerful character creation and fascinating story arcs.
But what do you do when they won’t shut up? When those muse-voices become the sound of spoiled, demanding children, refusing their bedtimes and demanding your undivided attention? Do you give their their head, and let them run away with your story? Or do you put your foot down?
Discipline in writing counts for more than just making your word count and meeting your deadlines. Sometimes, listening to those voices can lead your plot astray, not to mention leave you with a potential cast of thousands who don’t really belong in the story you’re currently telling. How many times have you heard an author talk about their characters taking over the story? Or how they didn’t know the name of such-and-such until halfway through the story? Or, if you’re like me, you wind up with far too many beginnings and sagging middles, and not enough fully told tales. Whether you’re a plotter, panstser, plotster, or a plantster, you’re sure to run into the situation sooner or later.
So how do you put down your authorial god-foot and hush those petulant children? Well…easier said than done, for those of us cursed with the ability to hear those pleas.
Did you ever play Dungeons & Dragons™? There were these character sheets that allowed you to create your role down to eye color, hair color, and hobbies, along with the usual x number of hit points, magic points, etc. Try making a similar character sheet, kind of like a crib sheet for your muse-children. You’ll make those little voices happy, and you’ll have a handy cross-reference when your primary character becomes a secondary, or vice versa. This process works really well if you’re primarily a plotter. Pantsers and their ilk can use them, too, with good success. And it’s fun to work out the details, whether you outline it or write mini-narratives.
You can also write snatches of scenes, and squirrel them away for future stories. It’s amazing, but sometimes the character yelling the loudest only had a one-paragraph message for you. There is a potential problem with this method, though: if you let it consume too much of your time, it’s worse than listening to the voices. But it has the added advantage of giving you good synopsis material for later. And it can really help you determine who truly belongs in the story you’re writing at the moment.
Of course, there are times when you just have to be the parent. No matter how much you might want to tell your character-children the real reason you can’t tell their story right now, they’re really much too young to understand you have to get their older siblings ready for the outside world first. That’s when you put your foot down, and send them off to bed with a goodnight kiss.
After all, they’ll leave the nest soon enough. Why let them leave before they’re ready?