Monday, March 22, 2021

Writer, Don't Forget To Listen

 By Ann Tatlock


Your laptop is updated with the newest writing software, and the cursor is blinking. You’ve attended online writing seminars, tuned in to podcasts for aspiring writers, and traveled the vast circuit of writing blogs. You’ve got your characters situated on the stage of your mind and you have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to start their story and how it’s going to end.


So you’re ready for Chapter 1, right? Maybe, but let me add one more item to your Preparation Checklist: Listen!


Have you listened to your story? Have you spent time listening to what your characters are telling you about themselves: who they are, what they want, what they intend to do?


People think it’s strange when I say my characters speak to me, but it’s a good thing they do. They invariably make the story better when I look to them for the unfolding of the tale.


For instance, in my first novel A Room of My Own, my plan was to have the main character’s father die from his injuries at the end. But Papa insisted that he had no intention of dying, and he promised a better outcome to the story if I let him live. We debated it for a time, but I relented and discovered he was right. I loved that the book had a happier ending, and I’m sure my readers did too.


This is simply imagination at work. The gift of imagination is a mysterious thing, and I can’t really explain how it works; I only know that it does. If we let it. If we are willing to be patient, give it time, submit our own thoughts to it so that the voice of creativity can be heard above our own.


So how do we listen to our characters? It isn’t easy in a world in which news and information, emails, social media posts, and phone calls are coming at us like one loud chattering tsunami. We have to consciously take time away from all that, first of all, and second, we have to make an effort to quiet our own minds.


It’s almost like Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Be still. Quiet yourself. Listen. God speaks in the stillness. So do our characters. And I have a feeling that’s not by coincidence. After all, God’s Holy Spirit is our Muse, our inspiration. He guides us in our writing by igniting our imagination, His gift to us to be used for His glory.


My characters speak to me while I am taking my afternoon walk, making the bed, washing the dishes, listening to classical music. They speak to me when I am falling asleep, or in those moments when I’m waking up. Often they speak when I am reading the works of other authors who know how to listen to their imagination.


Creativity can’t be forced. Good literature can’t be rushed. We can’t simply churn out good books by forcing our characters to do what we want them to do so we can meet our deadline.


So I’ll say it again: Be still. Quiet yourself. Listen. Listen to your characters as they walk out the story of their lives with you. To me, this is the most important ingredient of good literature. Nothing will create a more beautiful story than the voices of your own imagination.


 (Photo courtesy of and stockimages.)


One of the most important ingredients of good literature is listening to our characters and the voices of our own imagination. via @AnnTatlock (Click to tweet.)




Ann Tatlock is a novelist, children’s book author, and editor. Her newest novel, The Name of the Stars, was published in October 2020 by New Hope Publishers. She founded and is former  managing editor of Heritage Beacon, the historical fiction imprint of LPC/Iron Stream Media. Ann and her family live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Please visit her website at




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