Author of Middle Grade novels about friendship, family, and figuring out where you fit in.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"That's Not Who I Am"

If you're a writer, you know your characters. You know their background, what they like and dislike, and how they'd act in certain situations. It's like they're, well, real. (Some writers may insist their characters ARE real, in fact.)

But just like getting to know a person in real life, this takes time. And every writer's process is different.

I usually start out with a very basic personality type (I ask questions like, is he/she extroverted or introverted? More left-brained or right-brained? Spontaneous or a planner?) Then as I get to know the character from the inside, his/her physical description pops into my head. This is usually pretty subconscious, because if I think too hard about what I want a character to look like, I get too picky. So I go with what immediately comes to mind.

Then I name him or her. This takes longer, because I love names and want to make sure the character has just the right one.

And then I press "play". I imagine how the character will react to each situation in the story. I imagine his or her interactions with every other character. I write it all down.

But sometimes I don't get it right.

I was drafting an outline of a potential novella a few days ago, and my original idea was to have two characters (a guy and a girl) argue with each other on a regular basis. But even in the outline phase, I couldn't make it work. The guy character just wouldn't approach her and wouldn't respond when she initiated an argument.

He basically told me, "That's not who I am. I don't fight. I avoid conflict."

(Not that, you know, he actually spoke to me, but I wouldn't judge writers who do have this happen!)

I realized... this isn't about me. I've created fictional people who are so real, they've almost got minds of their own. Just like we humans have ways about us that are "in character" and "out of character", these guys have to be authentic to themselves, too.

And in the end, I've got a much stronger character because of it.

Any other writers have experience with characters who know themselves a little too well? Any readers feel like characters in books they've read must actually be real?


Jemi Fraser said...

I love when the characters get so real they argue with us! And they always know best, don't they?

Tiana Smith said...

Ha! I just wrote about something similar on my own blog. On one hand, I love it when my characters start taking on a life of their own - on the other, it can sometimes mess things up!

Anonymous said...

They do feel real. It's a great feeling, because I'm more eager to write.

I love the look of your blog.

Cynthia said...

Yes, I agree that it takes time to get to know our characters, just like it takes time to get to know people that we meet. For my fictional characters, I try putting them in situations that are out of their comfort zone to see how they'd react...because you know there's that saying about how true character is revealed when one is encountering a challenge.

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