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Arguing with your characters

March 18, 2009
Writers hand with pen
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Last week, I shared my thoughts at developing a character and allowing them space to explore the world and situations you have created. What happens once your characters flex their ethereal muscles and decide they don’t like what you have planned for them – or disagree with other characters in ways you never anticipated? What happens if your readers reject certain aspects of your characters?

There is the danger, as JR Rowling found when her readers began questioning Dumbledore’s sexuality; that “they” knew more about the characters than the you – author. The fundamental problem with that assumption, is the belief that everything about the character shows up on the page immediately. Certainly with the experience I have had writing Captain Juan and with my NaNo Wri Mo Project Mistress Moon, the characters would surprise me with snippets of information – or conversations would begin, making actions or decisions (which may have seemed strange at the time of writing) done in the past make total sense.

The things that show up on the page is only the public life of the character; the things they feel comfortable or choose to allow you, the author – or the reader – to know about them. The private life of a character exists away from the prying eyes of the readers, with much of the undercurrents and subplots discussed between the author and the character. This is the space where characters begin to argue with the author, or amongst themselves. Often these will only ever come to light if he author discusses it in an interview or after the story has been published.

As the director of your world, you will have an instinctive feel for how much information you need to share about a character in order for your readers to feel a connection with him/her. It’s then up to the way that you craft your story to show, not tell, the details as you may then choose to keep certain facts secret until it is necessary to the plot.

Like any director, you may have the storyline plotted out, the ‘shots’ you want to take detailed in your head, key dialogue mapped out; but once the characters are allowed to wander freely within the world, there comes a point where you need to decide if you are going to direct with an iron fist – or allow the characters, whom you have breathed life into through your careful creation, to improvise. Characters you introduce as walk in/ walk off bit parts, often demand that they are either kept on, not killed off or be allowed more page space. In my experience, these characters often end up pivotal or key within the plot.

Having allowed my characters freedom and discovering new plotlines and more depth within their souls I would have thought possible, I would suggest to those iron gripped writers in relaxing their hold on control; perhaps for a few moments, and allow the story to speak to their hearts.

Authors have the honour of intimately knowing their characters as they will always know more about them than the readers; but even then, if the character has been given a free hand, they will start to explore in ways never expected and surprise everyone. Listen to the arguments; you may be delighted with the end result. BJ – a writer whose blog I frequent – wrote an amusing post about a character and an author discussing the future of the plot which I thought fitting to end my thoughts today. Click here to follow her to her blog

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