Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When Your Characters Don't Behave

Last week almost every day of my writing felt like pulling teeth. I'd sit down at my laptop, bring up my chapter and . . . stare at the screen. Then when I'd start to type, something didn't seem right. I knew I needed to push through no matter what I felt, but still. It's one thing to be at my muse's mercy, it's another to sense something isn't flowing.

I should've learned this by now. What I finally realized was I was forcing situations on my characters. I had one direction I wanted the plot to follow, but my poor character was having none of it.

I've attended several years of the National Book Festival down in D.C. I've heard the likes of Sue Grafton, Nevada Barr, Mary Higgins Clark, John Sandford, and Clive Cussler talke about their characters as if they're real. As if they run the show. They'd say things like, "I got to Chapter 3 and my character wouldn't do what I wanted." I remember looking at these authors with skepticism. They sounded insane. Um, excuse me, but aren't you the author of these fictional characters?

Yeah, well, that was before I had characters of my own to wrangle. Now I know what they mean. It's all about the human condition, I suppose. If you have a character with this personality put into this situation, then 9 times out of 10 they're going to respond thus. And I was trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

So I gave up and let my character do what she wanted.

Lo and behold, I got unstuck! The words flowed again. Does this mean my characters know more about the story than I do? Hmm. Scary thought.

And just in case you're wondering, this character is the lead in my third novel (working title Flesh and Blood). Her name's Brynn Taylor, and she's definitely got some issues. I look forward to watching her figure her way out of them. :)

9 comments:

Stina Rose said...

That happens to me all the time! I was telling a non-writing friend about this phenomenon just a few days ago, and she looked at me with that same skepticism that you mentioned. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one with strong willed characters. :)

CeeCee said...

Yes! A third novel!

jelindsay said...

I can totally relate. At that point I close the laptop, grab my notepad and pen, and then tell the character in question to talk to me about what's going on in his/her head. It ends up reading like an interview but I come out with a completely different perspective. The story begins flowing naturally again, and ultimately reads better than it would have otherwise. As writers we have to constantly remind ourselves we can't force our will on our characters.

The InkSpell books touch on this topic a bit, too, especially InkDeath. I think that's why it's my favorite of the three.

Koala Bear Writer said...

Those things only other writers can understand... :) I'm glad you let her talk and lead you.

Nicole said...

They have minds of their own. I guess we wouldn't have them any other way . . .

Dawn Embers said...

Wonderful post. I have problems with some of my characters. I listen sometimes because they can be right. However, when they threaten to ruin the entire plot I pull in the reins a bit.

Oh and I've picked your blog to receive an award. It's posted on my blog.

http://dawnembers.blogspot.com/2010/02/honest-scrap-blog-award.html

Carol J. Garvin said...

When I do more pre-planning of my stories my characters are less inclined to wander off into unexpected situations and dialogue, but even then there are occasional times when I'm exasperated. Only other writers seem to understand how that happens. (Glad to hear there's another novel in the works!)

Mandy Maria said...

I understand that, its why I haven't written in a week.

Judith Briles said...

You're right,just let it flow. Give them the story they want to rule themselves. That is the beauty of writing. Characters have their own personalities that even if we try to alter them on our own ways, their personalities wouldn't jive and it will end up bad or not having a story at all.