Listening deeper

I was working on Deadtown #3 recently, exploring a new scene by putting a couple of characters into conversation. I often start scenes this way, because the scene grows clearer to me as I listen to what the characters are saying to each other. Once I’ve got their dialogue down, I go back through and layer in information about the setting, how each character looks and feels as they speak, how Vicky processes the conversation, and so on.

No, I’m not crazy, by the way. I don’t really think that autonomous people are talking to each other in my head. But “letting characters talk” about their situations, when I’m not yet trying to shape the scene, is a good way to find a new scene’s core. (I’m working on a guest post on this topic for another author’s blog. I’ll post more info about that when it goes up.)

Anyway, in this scene I was working on, a character’s seemingly offhand comment suddenly gave me some insight into her psychology. If you’ve read Deadtown, you know that Vicky’s sister Gwen is determined to live the most norm-like life possible. I’ve understood her choices as somewhat shallow. But something Gwen said revealed some deep-seated anxieties and fears that I haven’t explored. And now I find myself eager to listen to what Gwen has to say.

I don’t want to say anything too specific now, because I don’t know yet how much of what I discover about Gwen will end up being relevant to Book 3’s story. But it was interesting and exciting to gain some insight into her and open up a new facet of her personality to explore. When I “eavesdrop” on characters’ conversation, I can find depths to plumb—if I listen carefully.


About nancyholzner

6 responses to “Listening deeper

  • June

    Great, Nancy! 🙂

    Listening is such an important skill and to use it to discover more about your characters makes it an even more helpful tool. Way to go!

    Take care,

    who likes to hear that you’re working on Deadtown #3!!!

    • nancyholzner

      Hi, June!

      I agree that listening is important, whether you’re writing fiction or interacting with other people “in the real world.” When I write the way I describe here, I feel like I’m not trying to “make” the characters say this or that, just seeing where the conversation goes. Sometimes they surprise me. 🙂

  • Miriam Pia


    Its good if you’re working on Deadtown 3, especially if you have a contract for it already…now I’ve known you well enough that this might be your funzy project over and above your manuals and other nonfiction books which thank God help you to pay bills or just feel “respected as a writer and working” or something…something inclusive of but ‘more than’ the wife and mother that you are…without which you might wonder, “why does my life suck even though I am having career success?”…so, ‘wife and mother’ thought often called ‘only’ is actually “Hey, wow, cool I have a healthy private life and something of a career” strange girl, but we like you.

  • Ravenne

    What a great post! I think it’s important to listen to the characters. They go through things and learn and/or change. The way they respond in the first book may not be how they respond in the second.

    I’ll make a note. Eavesdrop on my characters.


    Laurel W.

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