Let me get into your head! Pretty please?

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with Mrs Holder’s Legacy

I have a problem. …I’ve had to conclude that my main character has more than a touch of the Janes. Whilst several of my minor dramatis personae have introduced themselves with unexpected enthusiasm, telling me all sorts of unimagined things about themselves, Lucy – or maybe Chloe (this woman is such an enigma, I can’t even work out what her name is) – is keeping resolutely shtum.” The Jane Fairfax Dilemma

Revision Blues? I wish.

Killing my darling was only the beginning of the struggle.

I thought that once I overcame that hurdle I’d be singing all the way to the finish line. Not so. I’m double-crossed. Stumped by none other than the elusive Bertie Gray. Bertie Gray

Formerly a minor character, he somehow managed to cut out so much scene-time for himself that I was stunned to discover half way through the novel that two protagonists became three.

Now then. I must have a word with him, I decided. What we ended up having was a paragraph instead, and then some.

Me: Look, Bertie. I like you. You always bring something fresh to the table and I appreciate that. However… there are characters and then there are leads. You are not a lead so… Would you kindly explain on what account you take such liberties with my plot?

Gray: I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I’m the spice of your little suspense novel, aren’t I?  Don’t take me wrong. I’m happy to help out, but know this: I’m not some stooge who’s going to pop in any time you need to make the other guy jealous. If that’s what you want then — be my guest — find someone else to do the legwork. I didn’t spend three years at RADA to get your leftovers.

Thus speaketh the great Thespian.

Wait a second. I created you! Aren’t you supposed to do what I tell you?

Not Bertie. A few chapters back, this no-strings-attached actor by day and round the clock womaniser, halted right in the middle of a rather steamy scene, turned around and point blank refused to follow the script. His conflicting desires, his backstory, the present ambiguity of the relationship between him and the other character… It was too much. He wanted some time to take stock of the situation. Going through with it didn’t feel right — apparently.


That’s all well and good, but how am I expected to work under these conditions? I tried to reason with him. I explained how important this scene was to the plot. It’s a turning point, I said. No. He would have none of it.

Gray: Find another way to turn it then. Don’t go objectifying me. Need conflict? Start a war. I’m done.

Ta-da. Off he went and the entire production skidded to a standstill. New scene up in flames.

Me: Alright. Alright! You don’t want to do it. I get that. But what does feel right to you? Tell me, what is it that you want? Let me get into your head!


Me: Pretty please?

When I came across Mrs Holder’s Legacy‘s piece earlier today I realised that we were dealing with the same problem. The Jane Fairfax problem. For those of you unfamiliar with Austen’s work, Jane Fairfax is a character in her novel Emma: Jane is the niece of one of Emma’s neighbours and, despite … being intelligent, educated and otherwise the epitome of the suitable companion, Emma finds her – well, more than a bit annoying. The problem, we are told, is that she is too “reserved”. Emma can’t work out what she thinks about anything; she can’t confide in her; she can’t instruct her, or scold her, or laugh with her. In short, she can’t work out what makes her tick.” MHL

MHL’s Lucy and my Bertie are – in a nutshell – our Jane(s) Fairfax.

Just as MHL can’t work out what her Lucy thinks about, so am I denied access to Bertie’s inner life. That means that in any given situation I can’t tell how the character will react. Hence my aborted scene, and this latest impossible task of making Bertie do his job and move the plot forward.

If he’s not plotting with me then who is he plotting with? He’s up to something. I’m sure of it. I’d put a detective on his tail if I had the means to do it.

As MHL says: “I know Lucy’s a very private person and all, but surely she can tell me what she’s thinking?  I created her after all!  Doesn’t that entitle me to some kind of confidence?  Doesn’t she have any sense of gratitude?!”

Hear that, Bertie? Gratitude. You may think yourself secure, but take care. I’ve killed my darlings before. I can do it again. So sayeth the desperate author, pulling at her hair.

That’s that. Have to find some way to bring him back to the fold… But how? There must be a way, something to tempt a character to confide. Could try getting him drunk, I suppose. He’s rather partial to whiskey. Might get messy though… Don’t want to put him out of action altogether. Have you ever encountered this problem?

How do you get into your characters’ heads, if they refuse to let you in voluntarily?

All suggestions welcome!


Let’sTalk Opinion posts engage with issues that are important to other bloggers, connecting with others on matters close to their heart. If you like a topic and would like to contribute, please feel free to add to the comment box, reblog, share, email or message me on Twitter @shardsofsilence.

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25 thoughts on “Let me get into your head! Pretty please?

  1. Loved reading this! It really made me smile! As for Bertie, well, maybe he does have a point; sometimes there are ‘safe’ characters who don’t appear to do much but facilitate a lot (don’t let him know this, of course.) Keep trying to reason with him – failing that, threaten him with an unexpected, and possibly violent, demise! Good luck!

    • I’m so pleased, Chris! I’m always happy when I make someone smile.
      As for dear Bertie… he’s a tough nut to crack.

      Problem is, he knows his own mind (if only he’d tell me what that is!) and you are right about him being a ‘safe’ character. He was exactly that in my first draft.

      Once I started revising however, he saw an opportunity to make more of his role and has overstepped the mark a little. I’m sensing that he’s not all too pleased to be playing second fiddle to Cedric and is making life very difficult to me as a result.

      I’ll have to have a long – very long – chat with him and see if we can come to a compromise. Too late in the game now to turn back.
      Thank you 🙂

  2. Also, this happens a lot for me too. I don’t really write fiction but I do pay attention to the psychology of a character and how they would think in a scenario I conjure up every now and then.

    • I’ve put my whiskey plan in action. He seems to be responding, but you never know with him for how long it will last. I will try to wriggle out of him whether him and Lucy had crossed paths. Wouldn’t put it past them either. Mutiny!
      Thank you for your comment. Made me smile and I really needed that just now.

  3. If I can’t get into a character’s head it is because somewhere along the line I betrayed them. I left their favorite gun out, made them kill against the will, or just woke them up to early. Once I find where I mucked up they usually budge just fine.

    • That’s great advice, Nina. I cracked the first part of it yesterday. Bertie complied and I was able to fully rewrite the chapter… or should I say write a new chapter rather. It wasn’t what I had planned, but in Bertie’s own words: It felt right.
      I think his problem with me is that I didn’t want for him to embrace his darker side. I liked him and wanted to keep him in that place, but he’s more complex than I’d given him credit for, and now that I’m letting him act his way rather than mine, things are moving along.
      So your insight seems to have fit like a glove. Thank you 🙂

      • I had the character in my series named Ryan. After the events of the original first book (which is no long in the series unless I am told to write a prequel) he becomes a narcotic abuser and drunk; he actually cleans up a bit in the first book then when shit hits the fan he reverts back to old habits, I planned to kill him off. He was kinda of useless and I needed him to die to pass his power on. Well, I got up to the scene, he does a heroic thing — he should be dead. Nope. Not dead. This happens three or four times during the next two books. The whole time I’m screaming at him ‘You’re bloody useless, die already.’ He refuses and even vanishes a while in the third book, reappearing at his actual demise. Every time this happened it pushed one of the main character’s along, reveled something about them or helped develop their power. He was also pretty humorous. Especially when he had to land, ’cause he wasn’t good at it (in his transformed state he had wings) But he wouldn’t die until he’d made an atonement for his past.

      • A die hard character then 🙂 They do like to do things their own way, don’t they? Loved reading your story of how Ryan managed to get himself out of being cut off before his time. Very helpful. Thank you.


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  7. A really interesting post, Vic. It made me think… about Jane Fairfax and her role/character There is the plot constraint where she is engaged all along to Frank Churchill and is therefore secretive, but I’d always thought that Emma didn’t like her as she wasn’t animated and friendly to Emma; and was after all (and as Mr Knightly points out) more accomplished than Emma, a superior version of E (and also because Miss Bates goes on about her so inexhaustibly!)
    But you’re right, enigma in characters is all very well but they can’t be too deep or clever for the protagonist (or reader!)

    • Thank you, Lee-Anne. I sympathised with Emma on this, at least in part, but I seem to be drawn to characters like Jane Fairfax. Several of my characters have secrets they are unwilling to disclose. Of course, making sure that the plot will eventually explain their motivations is key, but it does make it hard-going for the protagonist who already has sufficient troubles to deal with 🙂 and I have the added pressure of getting the timing right for when the truth finally comes to light.

      • The heartless villain, who of course has at least one redeeming feature and is able to be ‘reformed’ by something (usually love) It is terribly romantic after all, and I cannot let this character go…

        Just thinking…I suppose in ‘real life’ bad characters possess good traits. Apparently, Hitler liked animals and was a vegetarian because of this (probably a bad example – no redemption there). Hollywood has milked this nice-villain a lot with their successful series, The Sopranos, Dexter and Breaking Bad (none of which I like incidentially)

      • You are right, and I think the reason why this character endures is partly due to the challenge. I was watching a series in which they introduced an apparently irredeemable villain. He killed so many people that it was impossible to keep count, treated his family with a mixture of hatred and disdain and had not one friend to his name. But then he falls in love with a young woman. His love is unrequited and yet he does not attempt to coerce her, despite the fact that he had it in his power to do it. Instead he painted her portrait and did anything he could possibly think of to make her care, and I found myself hoping that she would return his affection and … well, save him from himself I suppose.
        Proof once again that it works 🙂
        Thank you, Lee-Anne.

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