So much of writing is about getting quiet enough so you can hear your characters talking

flower on the grass

What I'll do is go out in the backyard in the morning

…one of the ways Khouri defines her characters is by what other people say about them. This is a technique discussed by Henry James in his theory of illumination. James imagined a main character occupying the center of a circle. In this circle, surrounding the main character, are the characters that he or she interacts with. James felt that every interchange between the characters should “illuminate” different aspects of the main character, just as various lamps illuminate different aspects of a dark room. You “illuminate” the room just the way other characters should illuminate the main character.

Callie Khouri uses this technique throughout the screenplay. I asked her how she goes about getting in touch with her characters, and she hesitated a moment before replying: “I think it’s something like preparing the soil for planting,” she says. “What I’ll do is go out in the backyard in the morning, and just sit there and try to open myself up and let the characters come to me; let them talk to me. So much of writing is about getting quiet enough so you can hear your characters talking. Sometimes I feel they choose you because they know you’re listening. You just have to shut up and listen.”

the words of Callie Khouri (born November 27, 1957)
as quoted in Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay (1994)
chapter – The Phenomenon of Thelma and Louise
by Syd Field
image – Clinton Steeds

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2 Responses to “So much of writing is about getting quiet enough so you can hear your characters talking”

  1. clarissa mcfairy Says:

    How true on both counts! The first, the Henry James quote, reminds me of painting as well as writing. I have found that the different characters in a painting reveal or illuminate different aspects of the artist. In a book, it is the main character, which is sometimes a subliminal or conscious aspect of the author. So, just as in a painting, say of mermaids, each character will light up some part of ones internal room.

    As for Callie Khouri’s technique, for getting in touch with her characters, how simply divine. It’s like sitting on a park bench, waiting for the squirrels to come to you, but these are no squirrels, they are friends, who come and sit beside you, and tell you their story.

    I love her comment: “Sometimes I feel they choose you because they know you’re listening. You just have to shut up and listen.”

    This Quote Snack was a real watering hole for my Muse. Thanks Elizabeth.

  2. clarissa mcfairy Says:

    O dear, I didn’t mean to make my Muse sound like a giraffe!