February 8, 2012 · 12:32 am
Writers shouldn’t fall in love with characters so much that they lose sight of what they’re trying to accomplish. The idea is to write a whole story, a whole book. A writer has to be able to look at that story and see whether or not a character works, whether or not a character needs further definition.”
Last week I received some feedback on one of my major female characters. Apparently, compared to another female character, she didn’t ‘jump off the page,’ as they say. This surprised me greatly. I’ve spent much more time thinking about Character A than Character B. Character A arrived in my thoughts with any beckoning. Character B was not forged, but certainly planned. Yet somehow, according to my small group of readers, Character B–in the draft they were shown– leaped, tumbled, and sprang, forward while Character A mostly stayed put.
I’m aware that some characters arrive more organically. As I’ve said before, these are the guys that show up uninvited bearing no food, drink, or gift. But what about those characters who I swear I know, see clearly, hear impeccably, feel intimately…but yet, don’t get expressed properly in the prose?
So I rewrote her. I opened up a new document, titled it after her name, and wrote her whole story. Then I took the various bits and pieces of text and placed them (I hope) strategically in the all right places. When I read over the revisions, I was astonished by how weakly I’d characterized her in former drafts. She is perhaps the most important female character in the story! I’d cheated her, in a sense. But what’s strange, the way in which I finally brought her to light, is exactly the way I’d always envisioned her. Now, thank goodness, so can everyone else.
I guess sometimes we intrinsic writers can lose perspective. We are so enmeshed in our creations that we develop a sort of ‘blind spot’ towards them. I see what I see, even no one else does. Even if it’s absurdly obvious. I learned something important from this critique though. Don’t shortchange your people. They don’t deserve it.
January 31, 2012 · 10:13 pm
“The writer must always leave room for the characters to grow and change. If you move your characters from plot point to plot point, like painting by the numbers, they often remain stick figures. They will never take on a life of their own. The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: ‘Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don’t. I’m my own person.’”
—Richard North Patterson
My characters are with me quite often. They kind of float around the top of my head. Like angels, in a sense, only I know for certain they’re there. I don’t know how else to explain it. They did not come from me, they came at me. I’m thoroughly convinced of this. Psychics say they hear voices, or the dead, etc. I do too. Sometimes I swear they must be from another dimension. I honestly don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve posted a link to a clip of author Jodi Picoult talking to Ellen DeGeneres. In the interview, Picoult calls writing “successful schizophrenia.” I was beyond pleased when I realized that I understood what she meant. That’s exactly what it is.
The protagonist in my novel simply arrived one day. He just showed up uninvited. OK, maybe I crafted him into something he wasn’t when he first came my way, but for real, he sprung up. Boink. like a weed (a good weed of course, he’s a great guy). A few days later, another character knocked on the door to my latent, subliminal, intrinsic writer’s brain. Then another, then another after that. At that point I started thinking, and soon, even more just bubbled up to the surface with names, backgrounds, etc. They told me who they were. They told me what they wanted. Half through the novel, one more came by. One I didn’t plan for. He was the most surprising. It’s funny too, because he enters the novel the same way he entered my mind: Out of the great, wide, expansive blue.
Sound easy? No. Not so much. It’s like I am channeling them, so in essence, things often come out distorted. They don’t always open up so easily in the beginning. I have to keep plugging along, letting them guide me. Some days, of course, they don’t guide me. They get all huffy, and puffy, and refuse to speak. They get sucked back into that realm they originally came from and sometimes they don’t come back for days. When they do, they steer me in a whole different direction, and soon I spinning in circles, ready to kill off each and every one of them. “You want your story written, huh?” I’ll say, “Then cooperate, dammit.” And eventually they do. Because they’re my people. And I love them.
Filed under Characters, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Writing Process
Tagged as Character, Character Development, Ellen DeGeneres, Jodi Picoult, Protagonist, Psychics, Richard North Patterson, Schizophrenia