Sunday, March 29, 2009

Characters Gone Wild

Okay. You've just written a couple of pages...things are going okay. Maybe not the best writing day you've ever had, possibly a few bits where the story isn't flowing or the dialogue seems clunky. Or maybe you're having one of those days where nothing is working and you feel like tossing a brick through your computer monitor. So you decide to take a break, leaving your characters and story to percolate for an hour or so. You go for a walk, maybe have something do eat or slam back a shot of Jack Daniels - whatever constitutes a break in your world. Ideas start percolating, the creative juices are flowing and you can't wait to get back to your work. You sit back down in front of your computer, open the document and...


"Wait a minute," you say to one of your characters. "Didn't I leave you in a juice bar?"

"Yup, sure did," replies said character, whom we'll call Nick just for the heck of it.

" mind telling me what the hell you're doing a bar?"

Nick shrugs. "Got bored. Only so much to look at in a Jamba Juice." He takes a sip of what looks and smells like booze.

"Hey! Is that alcohol you're drinking?"

"Best Manhattan in the city." Nick toasts the bartender. "Thanks, pal."

"'re a health nut! A vegan, fer crissake! You don't drink anything harder than raw carrot juice, remember?"

Nick wrinkles his nose in distaste. "Yeah, well, about that. I've decided I hate friggin' carrot juice, I like red meat and I have a drinking problem. Don't smoke though. I hate the smell."

"What, what, WHAT?!" You stare at him in outraged disbelief. "That's not how I wrote you!"

"Yeah, well, tough shit." Nick takes another long draught of his Manhattan and signals the bartender for another one. "And make one for the lady here. She needs to relax."

"I do NOT need to relax!" you sputter. "You are a vegan, non drinking, health nut and that's final!"

Nick looks at you, one eyebrow raised in a sardonic expression that has no place on his face. At least not the way you originally wrote his character. "Look, lady," he says after a long pause. "It wasn't working. No offense, it's not like you're a bad writer or anything...but there's no way the Nick you wrote will work for the story you want."

You start to protest, a knee-jerk reaction to someone daring to tell you what will or won't work for YOUR creation. Then you stop yourself wasn't working, was it?

Nick nods, his expression this side of smug. The bartender places a fresh Manhattan in front of both of us. "Think about it for a minute," says Nick. "Have a drink. Then we'll talk."

You think, you drink, and then the two of you discuss the story at length. Damned if Nick isn't right. It'll mean some rewriting, but ultimately you know the changes will result in a better story.

Moral of the story?

We may create these characters, but they really can and do take on a life of their own. And in my personal experience, allowing them the space to grow and change rather than try to keep them in a tightly sealed box of my creation helps me grow as a writer.


Mark Troy said...

Yeah, I have too many bruises from where my character kicked me when I tried to take her to Jamba juice.

Mark Troy

Hagelrat said...

I like Nick, he talks sense. Who the hell does like carrot juice?

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Eva Baum is constantly getting herself into bad places and situations, then expects me to get her out. She takes a lot of abuse from me over that, but I don't think she'd take carrot juice.

Morgan Mandel said...

That's the fun part of it, letting your characters do what they want and surprise you.

It's a good way to keep the story flowing.

Morgan Mandel

F. M. Meredith, author said...

It's always intriguing when what you so thoughtfully planned turns out not to be what your character had in mine--and the character wins.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Dana Fredsti said...

I think the moral of the story is...NO CARROT JUICE!

Jean Henry Mead said...

You gotta give your characters free rein. And why would anyone drink carrot juice? I enjoyed the article, Dana.