Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Characters! A cast of quirks and characteristics

Well day three was a no brainer for me. I'm a character person. Sure, I plot, but first I make up people. The people come with a lot of baggage. The baggage engenders great trouble for them. The trouble escalates and, voila, plot.

I don't know if that makes me "character driven" or not. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever fully understood the difference between plot v. character driven. The two seem to be symbiotic to me, continually wound together in that search for a story that moves and grows toward something memorable--toward a moment or message that will wow and linger. But I do take great pleasure in my characters. I do consider them entities of a sort, little imaginary friends, errant children. I get a teeny bit defensive when some folks, die-hard by the book folks, insist that "characters cannot take over a story" that the "author is always in absolute control."

Well, duh.

Seriously, those of us in the "my characters tell the story for me" camp are not off our rockers. (At least, I'd guess the majority of us aren't.) We know the characters are not real, right? I mean, we made them up. It's somewhat hard to forget. In fact, if you truly believe your characters are real people talking to you and telling you what to write, I would vehemently suggest you consider therapy of some kind. (chocolate is my favorite)

But I think what we mean, what we're talking about when we give that ounce of credit to our character, is that we've become so embedded, so engrossed in the story of the individual, that what they do next is not optional. We know what must happen next, because we know exactly who they are and exactly what they would do.

That's what I mean, anyway. When the character is "telling" the story for me, I know that writing something contrary to that character, that trying to steer it in an unnatural direction will feel wrong. It won't work. Ideas that seem perfect, that pop into my head as if by magic, are the things that are correct for the character. They follow logically because they are true to character. When I'm that engrossed in the story, and the next action just opens up before me as if the character is steering, I trust that path because I know where it ultimately comes from. From me. The author, who knows my imaginary friends well enough to step into their shoes and walk around for a bit.

So when they're "driving," I know it's me. I do. But it feels like magic just the same. It feels like the best part of this thing called writing. And I can't find fault in a little harmless passing of the credit to my characters.
Now, if you catch me knitting them sweaters and setting a plate for them at the dinner table, feel free to chime in with a reprimand.



Alyssia said...

This is a fantastic post. When you're speaking of characters telling YOU what to do, instead of vice-versa, I can't help but think of the times we get stumped in our stories. Like, we can't go on and we don't know why. 9 times out of 10 I've found that it's because the character did something... well... out of character. Then, it's just up to you, as the author, to find out what that hiccup was.

Stopping by from the A-Z challenge. Nice to meet you! :)

Cherstin Holtzman said...

Frances, you like-minded soul! I wrote on Characters this morning, too!

Thanks for an awesome blog ... I am swinging through on the A to Z challenge, and I hope you'll do the same!

New follower!

Jessica L. Foster said...

Great post! That's a great explanation for why the characters seem to take over the story. I love it when that happens.