When your characters are ignoring you, and inspiration won’t come

Stuck on character development? Falling out-of-love with your manuscript? Here are some tips to get those characters talking, keep the inspiration – and the words – flowing.

While there are many days when things are going terrific, and everything is sunshine and rainbows, there are perhaps just as many which aren’t. These are the days when you’re stuck with a sagging middle – or get to the middle to decide you hate all that’s come before. Sometimes your characters won’t talk to you. Sometimes, things were going fantastic, you were writing up a storm, you’re eager to get onto the next book and … nothing. The characters won’t talk, the plot won’t gel, nothing is working.

Now what? You wonder.

Well, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I’m a bit towards the beating and whipping the muse into submission, which is probably why at this point, the muse is either cowering in a corner, or mulishly refusing any action or assistance. When something is no longer working, it’s time for a different approach.

First, try talking to the characters. Yes, yes, of course they’re in your head. So perhaps free-write from their perspective. Imagine yourself as a medium, a conduit for these characters. Write the questions you want answered, then just keep writing and see what appears. You’d be surprised at the blocks this can get you past, the answers it can provide, or the sudden revelations you may not have expected but which your manuscript and story needed.

Did it work? Have you discovered all the answers you were searching for? No, hmm? Well, onto the next method.

Second, get inspired. What inspires you? Is it good music? A great movie? A new author or book? For me, I personally find dry as dust research tomes are perfect, probably because half of my brain gets bored and searches for something else to amuse itself, creating stories in the margins of my notes. If you don’t know what inspires you, this requires some research. When I was working on my post-apocalyptic book, I watched as many movies in what I considered a similar tone and subject matter, or, that is, as many movies I had like this at home. Listen to great music. Surf the web for pictures to use as inspiration which look or feel like characters or places in your book. Do whatever it takes until inspiration sparks. Then, back to work.

Success? No? Hmm, well, we’re not whipped yet.

The third method is doing an analytical reading of another book. Nope, no more research tomes, but probably something in your own genre. What book have you been waiting to read? What’s your favorite book? Or sometimes better yet, grab a random book. Whether the book is good or bad, it offers lessons. Because you’re not just reading it for pleasure. You’re going to analyze what works, what doesn’t, and how you can apply these same things to your book – the parts that work, of course. A favorite book can sometimes provide the perfect inspiration: why is it you favorite book? What did the author do or create that makes it your favorite? Does your manuscript include these elements? How can you incorporate them?

Did this send you down the path to success? Are you even now itching to put fingers to keys? No? Well, moving on …

The fourth method is harder, no doubt about it. This is a method I use for two different but similar reasons. The first is when I’ve reached a point where I think I hate the manuscript and want to start over. The second is during rewrites. Essentially, do a chapter by chapter analysis and break-down. What works in the chapter? What is the conflict? What is the emotional change? Why is it important to the plot? And perhaps most importantly, do you like it or not? What would you change? What’s wrong with it? In this way, I’ve decided to salvage chapters when I’ve scrapped many others, because there was something I still liked about the salvageable ones. Once you’ve created this chapter by chapter outline, it also lets you sit back and look at the manuscript as a whole objectively. Between chapters 24 and 25, is there a hole? What seems to be missing? Are all aspects of the plot where they’re supposed to be and as strong as they can be? From here, you can go back and correct chapter by chapter, you can see where you’ve been and where you’re going, and you can decide more objectively what’s worth keeping, and what’s not working and needs to go.

Was this finally the solution? Still no? Well, there is one last solution …

The fifth method is: walk away and go do something else. I do not mean you shouldn’t write. I don’t mean you will walk away forever and leave this poor, squalling, incomplete manuscript unloved and abandoned forever. I mean leave for enough time until you have reached the epiphany you need to continue and complete it, discovered a new vision for it, or simply have allowed greater distance and objectivity which will allow you to return with new eyes and renewed perspective. If this is not an option, then go back through the previous four steps. Simply sitting there, banging your head against the keyboard will accomplish nothing (other than, perhaps, the need for a new keyboard).

Hopefully by the end of this, the rain has cleared up and you’re back to sunshine and rainbows, you and your muse skipping happily hand in hand. Either that, or you’re just back to whipping the muse again, hard at work. Whatever the case, did these methods help you? How do you get past these kind of blocks? I welcome and look forward to your comments.

Author: S.C. Chalmers

Shelly Chalmers writes paranormal romances which run the gamut from Regency paranormal to space opera, always with a touch of humor. Find her at scchalmers.com

6 thoughts on “When your characters are ignoring you, and inspiration won’t come”

  1. In my time dealing with my mundane author, I have discovered that the many times that she has hit a blocked path… is because she didn’t listen to her inner voice. That would be me. Her muse.

    She has done many of the comments that you suggested up above (except the whipping the muse thing–she’s not writing that kind of story. Yet. I think. ;-).

    And they are excellent methods of approaching a situation from a different perspective–to free up the creativity that lurks within.

    One other method that she has used recently is to stop looking at the manuscript for a few minutes, then back off and look internally. To find that point in herself where the words were flowing for that story. She relives that moment, then slowly steps forward in the story and follows the thread she is watching to see if it follows the same path that led her to the dust bowl.

    And if all of those don’t work, she talks to her dog.
    As long as there is bologna involved, she always has the dog’s undivided attention.
    If only the same could be said for the other critters in the house… sigh.

    ~EK

  2. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
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    1. Why, thank you! I think you may have just made my day! 🙂 I will certainly endeavor to keep it up. I adore comments and suggestions, so glad to hear there are readers out there too, and hope my suggestions / blogs are useful to more than just me. Take care, and happy writing!

  3. Thanks for the visit and the compliment, and hope you found it useful. Please, if there’s anything else you’d be interested in seeing a post about, I’m happy to take suggestions!

  4. Sorry for the late reply – thanks for the comments. Glad it was useful for you. Any other suggestions? I have one character who is still being frustrated, and even my own suggestions aren’t working on him! 🙂 Anyway, glad to hear from you, Keep the comments coming, take care, and happy writing.

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