Saturday, June 21, 2014
Characters Have Minds of Their Own (And This is Why You Should Listen To Them)
Let's get our facts straight. We, as authors, create creatures, plots, settings, plants, even entire WORLDS, but we're only controlling about half of the story. Who's governing the rest of the book, you ask? I'm pretty sure your MC and just about all your other characters want to have a word with you.
No matter how much you might not want to admit it, only sometimes are you in complete authority over your characters. Seriously! They're fictional people, and yet they still manage to make things go their way. Guess what? That's not a bad thing! In fact, that's one of the most useful things about being a writer, because sometimes our characters have way more sense than we do.
Let me tell you a story (don't groan, this is gonna be awesome). As I planned my second book series, I got so excited about my one character, because he was finally going to reunite with his friend, save the world, and have a better life than before. In fact, I was totally planning for him to be a main protagonist. Apparently he didn't like that idea for some reason, because the next time I turned around, he had turned into one of the villains. I still feel betrayed about that - I mean, sure, I now have fun writing him as the villain, but I had planned such a GOOD FUTURE FOR HIM. *clears throat* Okay, sorry about that outburst. Point is, what I had planned hadn't mattered because he didn't listen anyway.
Once you get to know your characters very well, you have this sort of sixth sense about who they are. You know how they feel, talk, and act. You know what they wouldn't do or say. The weird thing is, we still try to force those unnatural actions and phrases onto our poor characters. The good thing is, our characters usually won't let us get away with it.
Have you ever been writing something that your charrie says or does, but it just feels - wrong? Yup, that's your beloved fictional friend, tugging at your mind like "Hello? Remember me, the person who knows what I would or wouldn't say? Why aren't you listening to me?"
Let's say that you have something really funny and witty for your main character to say in a scene. It's so hilarious that you can't even believe that you came up with it! But the problem at hand is that your MC is neither funny nor witty. In fact, he's a quiet, shy thing that has never cracked a joke in his life. What do you do? You have two options: either scrap the sentence entirely (yeah, it's hard, but it's necessary), or, if you really want to keep it, give it to another character to say (if you have a wisecracking best friend, that's usually a good choice).
If you are constantly having your character saying and doing things that their personality would never allow them to do, then the reader won't be able to get to know the character because they're always changing.
However, if you allow your characters to help steer the story (even if it means that a scene or two turns out differently than you want it to), then I guarantee you that they will stay consistent. Staying consistent is not the same as not developing. Your characters should grow and develop over the course of the book, but they should keep their initial personality. My next blog post will be about how to keep characters consistent while letting them grown and expand - and I'm gonna use Captain America to do it. ;)
It's your turn! Have you ever experienced a time when you were trying to force your character to say or do something (and your character gladly steered you away from that)? What were you trying to make them say/do? How did you correct the mistake? Do tell!