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Characters Who Push Back

May 5, 2009

argumentLooking back through the last few months of posts here on Write Anything, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to conclude that the writers of this blog generally think of characters as dynamic beings. Several posts have discussed the how certain characters are easily led, while others are uncooperative. We have heard about interviewing them and challenging them to get at their inner core.

From talking to myriad writers over the years, I can say with some confidence that this is not a unique point of view. Few authors seem to have difficulties with their scenes or plots not cooperating. But it’s a common feeling that particular characters are just plain uncooperative.

I find this concept fascinating—for although I have experienced it, I am at a loss to explain it, but on some level I know that it’s a sign that you have created a good character.

I know this because only well-formed characters are rounded enough to develop their own personality…their own energy…their own will…

Put them in the right situation and the scene will zip along, because you don’t have to worry about making them act the way you want them to. Instead, they take on a life of their own and all you have to do is chronicle what they’re doing.

But put these characters in a situation they wouldn’t allow themselves in, or try to get them to act in a way they wouldn’t and they will fight with all their non-corporeal strength.

So if you find yourself in the situation of having of these irascible characters pushing back, what should you do?

If you’ve a character of this quality, it’s likely that you’ve connected with her on some level. If you are lucky or skilled enough to create a character with this kind of spark—with a life of their own—you do whatever you can to keep them intact and honest. Scenes, plots, descriptions and whatnot are a whole lot easier to come by than a compelling character.

Dale lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his fiancée and four step-children, and spends a good portion of his time trying to locate an absent muse. You can read about him, his family and his struggles at Rough Draft.
  1. May 5, 2009 7:06 am

    the pushier the character the more drama and excitement there is about to be had! I also take it as a sign that I am trying to impose my will on the story – rather than listen to what is going on….

  2. May 6, 2009 3:01 am

    I believe my characters are living, breathing dynamic beings in their own right … and the push or get tesky when I’m not listening to them. As Annie says above – imposing my will rather than surrendering to them.

    Sue Woolfe spoke at the Byron Bay Writers festival about her MC who totally abandoned her when she refused to write the world as he saw it (which happened to be through peaking in windows because he was struck down with a stutter than rendered him unable to speak) … after a week of trying to impose her will she became totally blocked and could no longer writer. Which began her on her search for the biological basis for creativity.

    I know when my characters push I’ve over stepped the line – or pushed our friendship a little too far. Just like in real life 🙂

  3. May 7, 2009 5:50 am

    As the writer of a series, I can say that not only my characters live outside me but they grow, change, find friends I don’t necessarily approve of, acquire bad habits, travel, etc. The only times I write myself into dead ends are when I try to make my characters do things they don’t want to do.

    I think it’s Joyce Carol Oates who said (I’m paraphrasing) that why would she go out to dinner with a bunch of boring people and talk about the weather when her characters were much more interesting? She’d rather stay home. I often feel like that. Good thing the writer’s job is mainly solitary.

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