Thursday, March 27, 2014

Your Characters and Their Antics

So I was throwing down words the other day, and was surprised when my characters started doing things that I really wasn’t comfortable with. This both amazed me and worried me. It amazed me because I felt that I had actually finally created a character that wasn’t just based on some loose idea of but it also worried me because if I wasn’t happy about what the characters were doing, then what would total strangers think about them.

Now, this might not be that revolutionary to most. I admit I’ve only been studying the art of fiction writing for about a year (and I have a lot to learn). In all of my previous projects the protagonist has always been someone that I liked, the ultimate hero, the person who’s always going to have the answers and never fails, but with BEAST I really didn’t start out to make a character that people would “like”. In fact, my protagonist was originally supposed to only be a minor supporting character and the character I intended to write the story about was pushed to the background. The thing is, it works better this way, and I didn’t force it.

That’s when I realized that it wasn’t really my place to say how or why or anything about what my characters do. Sure the ideas were mine, but apparently you can’t control everything.

About two weeks ago I bought “Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland” and so far it has been a fantastic read. Just in the first 50 pages I have learned more about writing than I have in the past year and I still have 200+ pages to go. Ironically, about a week after I had this “I don’t need to like my characters” epiphany I read this:

“The artist should not be the judge of his characters and their conversations, but only an unbiased observer.”1

I set the book down and laughed—then I picked it back up and kept reading. Like I said, I still have a lot to learn but now I know some things that I need to focus on, more than just finishing a project. 

Well-rounded characters are a necessity for good stories, more to the point, believable characters are imperative to any story and our characters know this. So the next time you find yourself not approving of what your characters are doing, just let them do it. It might make your story better. I’m not an expert by any means, but it you’re seriously about making your projects better, you should pick up this book, you might be surprised at what you learn.

 1.) Anton Chekhov, quoted in Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2006) p. 244 (Structuring Your Novel, K. M. Weiland, p. 52)

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