When All Else Fails

“I won’t tell you what to do. I’ll merely suggest what you should do and hopefully the subsequent guilt trip will steer you into making the correct choice.”

I was actually quoting myself there. Who was I talking to? One of my main characters (Icarus), who then left me completely stumped for nearly 8 months. Why? Because, damn it, he stood his ground.

I know logically that they’re driving and in full control of the vehicle (story), but there are certainly times when it feels like it’s all in our hands. And what useless hands we have at times…
We can argue with them all day long, but if the story starts to feel unfamiliar then we’ve got a problem. A wrong turn has been taken somewhere and it’s quite likely us who made it.  

 This all goes back to knowing your characters and taking care not to let your own quirks or agenda ruin a perfectly quirky, perfectly motivated character. I don’t mean not to let yourself into the story (though you do need to be careful with that too–-but that’s a whole other blog post). What I’m telling you is to spend time with your characters enough to know what they would or wouldn’t do in a given situation. Write down a list of hypothetical questions if that would help you, and literally answer each and every one of them. That way when unexpected plot twists emerge (for those of us who don’t outline to the extreme) you won’t have as high a chance of making the wrong decision for your character. Don’t think you’d ever do that? You’re lucky. By the way how is that novel,  that’s collecting dust in your closet, coming along? Oh, right, you aren’t working on it anymore because it isn’t any good. Sure. I believe you. That’s totally the reason. *ahem*  

The bottom line is this: Get intimate with your story in the most clingy, lascivious, inappropriate ways possible. Know each of your characters as though they were your own flesh and blood (or not, whichever the case) and drill them like a journalist on a deadline. Don’t accept ‘I don’t know’ as an answer. They do know. You know. Now answer!

And when all else fails, there’s always Burger King. I hear they’re hiring…you’re sure to meet some characters there.

3 responses

  1. I get to know my characters well enough that my husband has always commented that when I talk about them, he swears I’m talking about flesh and blood people that I actually know. – And they don’t always do what they are supposed to do. Not so much the main characters. I generally know what to expect from them, even if I don’t always like it. It is usually those supporting characters that are just supposed to be colour for the story that get me now and then. In two cases, characters with less than stellar personalities, ones whom I would never have slated as the heroic type, broke out of their shells and transformed from supporting character to main character without any prompting on my behalf. I have to admit, it made the story much more interesting, and I have learned not to fight this when it happens.

  2. I think in pictures, I can talk about a character as if they were standing right there with me. I can give you details- height, weight, how they move and how their voice sounds. I even can tell you — oddly enough– how they smell. created an insect race which is somewhere between a tarantula spider and a scorpion. – and these are the GOOD guys, well, sort-of. I’ve even done a little research on human anatomy to figure out how to give tusks to six-foot, red skinned aliens. It wasn’t work, it was really kinda fun. I will enjoy doing this as a life-time career; once I start making money.

  3. Haha, they sound like my kinda good guys! Isn’t it amazing how real these characters are to us? I’m not nearly as dramatic in real life as I am here, but I cried the first time I saw the second to last draft of Garren’s cover, merely because it *was* Garren. Chill bumps, tears, and a joy I couldn’t have imagined. It made every rejection letter, every bad day at my old 9-5, every doubt and fear worth it. That single moment, if nothing else, was worth it all.

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