Ain't Misbehavin

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Well, they were. My characters, that is.

Now that I stopped forcing them in a direction they didn't want to go, we're all getting along swimmingly.

I know some readers and authors can't stand to hear a writer talk about their characters as if they have free-will.

"My character won't talk to me."
"My hero isn't cooperating."
"My heroine just said something surprising."


Boo-freaking-hoo. Get real! How is that possible? Characters are a figment of the author's imagination. Wholly made-up and they do what the author tells them to.

Erm... not so much.

Maybe you can 'make' the character do something, but nine times out of ten what you end up with is a contrived situation, and characters that have gone curiously flat with no chemistry.

If the writer did even a half-assed job at making those characters real or 'alive' on the page, they're going to behave like any other 'live' being by speaking or acting in unexpected/unplanned ways. And if you push to hard to have them conform to your plan, well you may very well end up with mere puppets for a scene or two or a whole book even....

In the same way some sculptors say they 'released' the form from the medium ("Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."-Michael Angelo), or some muscians say the music/words 'came' to them, I think, to a degree, the same holds true for writer and story/character.

This has been my experience. For other writers they have no problem shaping and forming and aiming their story/characters each step of the way in the direction they want them to go.

Diffrent strokes.
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8 comments:

Lynn Viehl said...

Sometimes writers who speak of their characters as if they are real people (and apparently believe it) do rattle me a little. In the same way one of my crazy great-aunts did when she used to have conversations with potted plants, trees, wildflowers and the occasional strange dog. Which wouldn't be that weird, except that she insisted they talked back to her and she understood them.

Until someone invents a synpatic matter transformation machine, a construct of the imagination cannot be anything but imaginary. So if you're fighting a character, you're arm-wrestling with an imaginary person, which means you're fighting with yourself and some decision(s) one part of your brain made that another part considers unsuitable.

A lot of this insistence on speaking of characters as if they're real is probably posturing or catering to rabid fandom. I guess if you don't mind intelligent people thinking you sound like a twit it's okay.

vanessa jaye said...

My mom use to talk to her 'beautiful darlings' as she watered and fertilized them. While she was convinced all her cooing aided towards their growth/health, she never mentioned that they talked back to her. :-P

Erm, I don't think I go as far as the examples you mention. lol. Mostly I'll say the characters are not cooperating or I've lost their voice. They've literally gone flat/dead.

The more extreme stuff I can see doing for *fun* for readers, but seriously mean it.

I really like what you said here:

"you're fighting with yourself and some decision(s) one part of your brain made that another part considers unsuitable."

It's spot on.

azteclady said...

I am one of those readers who gets antsy when authors (okay, ONE author in particular) talk about having the story "told" by her characters. Mostly that is because then all inconsistencies and plot holes are explained away with an annoying, "oh, I misinterpreted what I was shown".

Pardon me while I have a WTF??? cow.

Beyond that, I agree that if the characters are to be believable, then they will react to the situations the writer puts them in, like the individuals they are supposed to be. If more authors paid attention to that, then there would be fewer "oh, she's so smart but acts TSTL" heroines around...


:wink:

vanessa jaye said...

A small correction: "The more extreme stuff I can see doing for *fun* for readers, but seriously not mean it.
"


I did it here:

http://vanessajaye.blogspot.com/2005/06/where-to-find-hero-in-3-links-or-less.html


Aztec: LOL@ 'WTF cow' lol. But using it in that way--to explain away plot holes--would tick me off.

Lynn Viehl said...

Mostly that is because then all inconsistencies and plot holes are explained away with an annoying, "oh, I misinterpreted what I was shown".

I wonder if that would work with my editor. "But I didn't screw up the timeline in Chapter eight, I misinterpreted what Cherijo showed me." I'm sure she'd be nice about it. After she stopped laughing and canceling my contract.

Cherijo never shows me anything, the selfish witch. Off to sulk.

vanessa jaye said...

Yanno, I think I know which author you ladies might be referring to. *g*

Definitely not what I'm talking 'bout.

Also just came acoss this comment by Laura Kinsale regarding her take on a recent read. (bolding mine)

"It read as if it was meant to be a YA, and maybe it was. It seemed that it may have been written too quickly, and followed a synopsis, rather than the scenes and characters evolving out of what they were."

This is more along the lines of what I meant about characters 'speaking' to the author.

Lynn Viehl said...

This is more along the lines of what I meant about characters 'speaking' to the author.

My process is so far removed from that of organic writers that I can't even imagine writing characters like that, or working on a book without a synopsis. It sounds lazy and unfocused to me. But different writers, different methods.

vanessa jaye said...

I can almost see you breaking out in hives, Lynn. lol.

"My process is so far removed from that of organic writers that I can't even imagine writing characters like that, or working on a book without a synopsis."

I suspect (but don't know for sure) that LK meant she felt that the author adhered too rigidly to the synopsis without giving allowances for the character to grow beyond the boundaries set down in the synopsis.


It sounds lazy and unfocused to me.

To be fair, Lynn, you flesh out all the details to an impressive degree before hand. For the organic author that would feel like the book was already written and they'd lose all passion/interest to write the story. Different strokes etc.


But (believe it or not) I'm with you re not getting how one writes a story completely by the seat of the pants without any sort of a synosis. I like an basic outline to work with so I have clue how the story developes, the main conflicts, backstory, etc.

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