This came up in a conversation with a fellow author, and a discussion in WriMore International on Facebook.
A writer had posted a simple statement: please tell me I’m not the only one arguing with fictional characters. And I answer, “By no means whatsoever.” What I also say is that sometimes, saying something aloud, or reading something aloud, would help you see exactly where the errors are.
Now, let’s extrapolate why, for a moment.
How many of you, my fellow writers, have tried to edit a heap of text on your own? If it’s past a certain amount, your eyes begin to cross. That is where you overlook certain things, and that is when a test reader would later come to you and say, “This reads awkwardly” or “This dialogue could be better.”
Whether or not you will have such feedback, or have received it already, there is much to be said for actually speaking in order to work through a scene. For one, you’re paying attention, and two, your involvement with your own characters is a little bit deeper if you’re actually listening, rather than just reading.
Come on, if you’ve ever yelled at the TV or movie screen, you know what I mean. You don’t yell at the TV out of nowhere; you do it because you’re in it, and you’re in it up to your neck.
Writing is something that carries a certain peculiar sort of actor-observer bias. Think about the yelling at the TV or movie screen. You get so absorbed into the story that you want to somehow reach the characters, because you know that there’s something that they’re not noticing. You feel what they feel, you feel as though you are caught in the situation right along with them, but there is still a fourth wall, so to speak, which separates the viewer from the character.
With authors, take the same sort of emotional involvement in the story, and remove the fourth wall, and add in the actor-observer bias.
While I technically shouldn’t use that term, I can find no better words to describe it. The author is in a very unique position: he or she is watching the characters interact, is writing out their interaction, and at the same time, is wanting to write or do something that comes from the knee-jerk reflex to tell the character, “NO! Do NOT do this! Not a good idea!” – even though the character must do this for the sake of the story turning out to plan.
I would often say this about my own books, and I’m sure that many people will tell you the same thing: the character tell the story for me. Character-driven stories involve quite a lot of frequent yelling at the computer screen, especially in the editing phase, wherein the author finds that the characters did a phenomenal stupid…or ten. But most importantly, it involves reading aloud.
Yes, your roommate, husband,wife, kid, dog, or cat may think you’re a little off your rocker, but know this: your eyes may not be able to tell what’s off in the scene, but your ears don’t generally hear a story being read. You’re cued in, and paying more attention. As such, whatever sounds off to you, whether you’re acting out your own character dialogue or are trying to get your scenery and phrasing together, then I can promise you, it will be better if you actually speak your story than just read and try to make sense of it. Because, as Book 1 had taught me the hard way, it is fully possible to burn out via your own story.