Miscellaneous · Writing Tips

When Characters Say Too Much or Too Little


I have a couple announcements today. First, I would like to thank The Opinionated Woman’s Musings and Books for Fun for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the Lovely Blog Award. I nominated six blogs on my Facebook page to keep it going!

In other news, P.S. Bartlett interviewed me, and we discussed my writing process as well as how my works differ from other words in my genres. Check it out by clicking here. I also did another interview with The Examiner, but I will be talking about that today. So let’s get to chatting!


When Characters Say Too Much or Too Little

This is actually inspired from one of my latest interviews. If you haven’t had a chance to read my interview with The Examiner, here is the link, but in case the link doesn’t work, we spoke about topics in Take Me Tomorrow that I didn’t write about in great detail despite the fact that it is a huge factor to the setting, time, and lives of my characters. If you’ve read even the back cover of Take Me Tomorrow, you know there was a massacre prior to the story taking place. After the massacre, the State – a.k.a. the government body – enforced stricter rules on the citizens to prevent another violent uprising. That being said, Take Me Tomorrow is told from one perspective – a 16-year-old girl named Sophia Gray – and she doesn’t get into much detail about the massacre. The Examiner asked me why, and I explained in our interview:

‘I wanted to show more information on the massacre, but Sophia was very young and still is when the novel takes place, so it didn’t come naturally,’ Thompson says. ‘I thought about 9/11 when I considered the event. I was 10 when that happened, and it took me many years to finally grasp it or understand the importance of the event, but I definitely didn’t understand it when it happened. So I took that approach with Sophia.’

I would also like to add that if a sequel is published – which is up to the readers – the massacre as well as many other questions will be answered, but in terms of Take Me Tomorrow, readers are right. I didn’t explain it in great detail. But there was a reason behind my decision as well as many other decisions I made, particularly with Noah telling the story. Although he did in the original version, I had to cut his voice, because of many reasons – the main one being that it isn’t his story. It’s Sophia’s – but the secondary reasons revolve around his character. (Spoiler alert) When he’s on drugs, his voice makes no sense, and when he’s sober, he tells way too much information. Like way too much. Like the ending too much. Mainly because he can see into the future. But that’s another aspect entirely.

So where am I going with this?

Authors are often struggling with characters. We love them, but the characters – not the author – are in charge, which means they make decisions we don’t like, but we ultimately accept them because they are the ones telling the story. There are four instances that authors deal with in terms of characters, and those four things are listed below.


Sometimes characters don’t want to talk

I’ve mainly had this problem with my dual-perspective novels. I’ll wait for the boy to talk only to realize he is just not interested, and then, I realize I am going to have to write the entire novel from one perspective. But – eventually – he pops up, and then, I have to go back and add him later. Worst case scenario, they never talk at all, and I struggle to find a way to get around it or to coax them out. But I’m sure many authors have dealt with this, even labeling it writer’s block. I like to call it character’s block – because it’s them, not me – and I wait patiently for them to get over whatever is blocking them. Yes, I realize these are people in my head, but trust me when I say – sometimes – they won’t even talk to me.

Sometimes characters want to talk too much

This is when authors start screaming, “Shut up! Just. Shut. Up. You cannot tell everyone who the murderer is on the first page. Idiot. Then, we don’t have a story.” It happens. Oh, it happens. A character wants to give away everything the second they get a chance to speak. But it can be an easier problem to solve. A simple, “Hold back a little bit.” can solve everything, but it is still difficult when a character insists on exposing information an author wasn’t planning on telling until the end. Most of the time, I bite my lip, listen to the character, and hope they have a reason. They normally do. That being said, I have had to censor a character here and there for giving too much away too quickly. We need some suspense, after all.

Sometimes we (authors) force it

When I say “force” – for once – I don’t mean this as a bad thing. Sometimes, authors get lucky. We find spots that we can slide information in without having to destroy our character’s honesty in the process. I am referring to characters finding newspaper articles or television sets explaining certain events that characters might not understand. This helps because an “outside” source can explain what is happening without the character necessarily being involved. That being said, we don’t try to create these moments. If they happen naturally, fantastic, but we also don’t want to rely on these at every moment we are tempted to do so. (Because we are oh, so tempted.) But this can often lead to info-dumping or other uncomfortable circumstances if authors aren’t careful.

Other times we (authors) don’t force anything

This is what happened with me in Take Me Tomorrow. I could’ve forced information in, found a way to blame the information on the surroundings, but I realized many things when I contemplated that: The State wouldn’t leave documents of the massacre laying around for a 16-year-old girl to get her hands on. (That’s why the only info she does receive is from her father.) The news wouldn’t talk about it, and even if they did, Sophia spends too much time out in the woods to watch the news anyway. She might be oblivious to some of the political situations, but she is 16. Not only is she busy being 16, but she is busy surviving in her environment. Worrying about her dad, Lyn, Falo, and Argos is more important than understanding something that happened when she was 12, even if it was only a few years ago. I also had to keep in mind that she wasn’t directly affected by it at all in terms of her comfort zone (her family and friends.) If she had been, I would’ve been looking at a different situation. So I left it out because Sophia would leave it out. That being said, she is a different person at the end of the novel, and she might figure these things out in the sequel if it happens. But refocusing on not forcing it: sometimes characters need to be true to themselves, even if it is slightly destructive to the story. I don’t regret not having this information involved because I know that I was true to the circumstances, to Sophia, and to the world she lives in. And that isn’t destructive at all.

Sometimes authors have to make big decisions, but most of the time, characters do that for us. We just have to accept it and do the best we can do with their decisions.

Have you ever had these issues with a character? Experienced character’s block? Ever wondered why a character didn’t say something earlier on?

Talk about it below!


20 thoughts on “When Characters Say Too Much or Too Little

  1. Thank you for this post Shannon. It has has given been so helpful.
    What would you do when you realise one of your characters has given up his identity too soon?
    The chapter in question has already been read by thousands of readers on wattpad. I can’t move forward now as I’m really not sure what to do??

    1. Well, I would say – above all else – be true to the story and to the character. If you need to go back and change the story in order to do that, your readers will understand. Just let your readers know if you made any changes. I almost always go back once I finish a story, and I often have to change a lot. That’s just part of the writing process. :]

  2. Great post, thanks! I am sure I will have these problems when I start writing out my scenes, so its good to know some pit falls before I fall right into them!

  3. Happens very often and the problem seems to depend on the character’s personality. The secretive ones make it tough to rationalize them giving information even to the reader unless I abuse the inner thoughts writing. Though the oddest moments come from when a character says something and I have to scramble back to change things. This happened when a supporting ‘character’ made an accusation to a main character and I realized she was right. Can’t really say more without spoilers.

    1. I agree! The secretive ones create the biggest hurdles (having to go back, pleading them to speak, etc.) It’s always an exciting moment when someone finally exposes them, but – like you said – it’s often something that changes everything else. Oh, the torture! How delightful writing can be. :]

  4. Thank you so much for talking about the dreaded Character Block!! I’m currently working on Book 3 of my series and the character whose perspective the book is in, is at a place where he just doesn’t want to cooperate and I’m beating my head against my desk trying to get something with him. I’ve even left him for the last week to try and coax him back into it but being off writing for a week just made me feel sick. So I’m going to pick up a different project until he comes around, because he has to… eventually.

  5. That was a great post, thanks for sharing! I have this character who’s supposed to be the big, strong type, but who keeps talking so darn much! I always have to go through his dialogues and delete half the words afterwards… 😀

  6. Great post.
    I have a secondary character in my novel that just dominates every scene she’s in. She’s an adult, typically in scenes with 1-3 children (her nieces and nephew). The kids are the focus of the book, but the adult just always takes over. It really bugged me until I realized that adults will do exactly what I’m describing, especially with very young kids. She thinks she knows better than them, so blabs and blabs. She’s annoying, but at least realistically annoying 🙂

  7. Great article, Shannon.

    I’m writing the third book in my series now, and it is entirely* in dialogue, with multiple characters, so multiple points of view. Some of it is easy and fun, while other parts are tricky. One scene I just finished is a gunfight; VERY tricky without narration. In every bit of dialogue, the balance between too much and too little information is delicate. I want my readers to work a good bit to “get” it, but not be too obscure or too blatantly obvious.

    (*other than the prologue, which I wrote for Book 1, but didn’t get in, and which I forgot to throw into #2)

    Again, great article!

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