When the voices go silent

Thursday, Joe wrote about listening to the voices. But what do you do when the characters who have been talking to you go silent? You know they’re there. You can see them standing in the back of your head, snarky smiles on their imaginary faces, shaking their heads and refusing to tell you what comes next in your novel or short story. You try banging their heads against the metaphorical wall but they simply smile and, in their best David Copperfield voice, say, “Thank you, sir. May I have some more?”

Or maybe it is their Kevin Bacon imitation from Animal House?

Either way, they are snarky and stubborn and most definitely not talking to you and you have a story to finish. So what do you do?

Every author has a different way of dealing with this particular problem. Some go for long walks or hike up the sides of mountains. Some start working on another story, knowing that the characters in question will get jealous and start talking, usually very loudly. Others read or clean house or go shopping. Me? I find some chore around the house that lets me bang a hammer and wield a saw, dig holes or haul heavy bags of something or other.

In each instance, the activity is such that you aren’t thinking about your work. Sometimes you aren’t thinking about anything except the task at hand — especially if using sharp implements. What each of these activities have in common is that they let the story percolate in the back of your where the problems with the story can work themselves out without you stressing over it.

Yes, problems.

That’s usually why a story comes to a grinding halt when you’re writing it. Those problems can be real — your plot took a left turn and you’ve written yourself into a corner — or something almost every writer experiences as some point in time. You’ve reached that point in the story where it is no longer “exciting” to write. Some of us struggle with the middle of a story. Others balk when it comes to the ending. Whatever the reason, you have to push through, but sometimes that means stepping back for a few hours or days and letting the problem work itself out in your head.

But, this is where you have to take control again. You don’t just leave it there indefinitely. It is very easy to do just that when you are at the point in the book where you usually balk (for me, the middle). It is even easier to do when you suddenly realize that what you’ve been writing doesn’t feel like what you’ve written before. This usually happens when your craft has taken a leap forward. It is scary because the comfortable feel your writing once had is gone. It will come back. But you have to recognize what’s happened and run with it. (This is where a good Alpha reader comes in handy. Someone you trust to tell you if you are going wrong somewhere along the way. They see your work more clearly than you do.)

Anyway, I’ve rambled on. The short version is sometimes the voices go silent. It’s up to you to figure out why and to poke and prod at them until they start talking again.

So, what do you do when the voices no longer talk to you?

One response to “When the voices go silent

  1. Stepping away is the best way, I think. Take a breather and come later. Maybe tomorrow. Don’t wait too long, though. You might not want to come back. You know what they say about falling off of a horse.
    Reading something is good, too. Something another writer does sometimes causes a light bulb to pop on over my head and, all of a sudden, I know where I’m going to go.

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