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Old 21st November 2011, 03:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Characters - are they real or am I insane?

So I was at a writing group the other day, and we were discussing our problems with writing. I decided to bemoan the fact that my characters very rarely want to do as they're told. They're constantly getting together with the wrong people, surviving to the end when they were supposed to be killed off halfway through, and in one case going so far as to hijack the role of main hero. These days it feels less like writing a book than being a DM. I just set the scene, let the buggers loose on it and see what happens.

Then everyone looked at me like I'd just started singing about bananas while dancing the flamenco on the coffee table.

Is it just me this happens to? Does anyone else have trouble controlling these entities that are supposed to obey our every whim? If so, how exactly does one train a character to actually be a villain when all he really seems to want to do is amble through life and get with that hot policewoman he met the other day?
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Old 21st November 2011, 03:20 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

My characters always seem to run wild and constantly surprise me with the things they do.

I tend to write scripts more these days and I found my secondary characters would start to become more interesting than the main (which can't be a good thing for a film...) Someone who was only meant to be in one scene to set the main character off on his storyline, he eventually ended up staying for the entire plot.

There have been a handful of plots I've actually seen to the end, and in my two main ones that were the most complete, the main character both had a male companion type. These two made me laugh more, had the better lines and tended to more fluid sexuality (not that the scripts touched on this, I just got the feeling and it's how they developed). I loved writing for them.

I tend to be the same with storylines. They can end up going whether they want and I'll often be surprised at the paths they take.
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Old 21st November 2011, 03:25 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I think its a mark of a more advanced level of writing, if a more difficult one, when one creates a world and characters and then sets them running and finds out where they lead. It produces a world which can be instantly more believable to the reader because the characters choices can be seen and more easily shown to the reader.
This is as opposed to a story where the writer creates characters and a world, but who is constantly forcing things down a set path because suddenly characters are making choices that don't fit their persona or manner and events are happening which feel forced. This always gives a jolt to the reader when its noticed because it breaks the immersion within the story. Of course at times all characters might need a nudge here and there to get to where they are supposed to be (and on time as well), but these need to be subtle and used sparingly.
The real key is to make sure that when the characters are made and presented to the reader, that they are done so that they will more likely follow the path you want later on.

Like all things this will, of course, vary between writers and some will hold a very personal attachment to their characters, whilst others will view them as little more than pawns on the chessboard; so its not wonder that some will not understand the other sides viewpoint full. Asides which its not mature for an adult to admit to imaginary friends (at least until you've a good few awards, sales and some clout behind your name - then you can say what you like and its put down to good old eccentricity )
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:12 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

If you're writing realistic characters, they will probably come more from your subconscious than your conscious mind (unless, perhaps, you know them very well before you start). Your plotting, however, will likely be the reverse. Hence characters who don't want to follow the plot. Don't fight them -- it doesn't work.
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Can you blame them? You created them, of course they want a more interesting job/action/interaction... Happens all the time, mostly for the better - they seem to know much more than I do!
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:39 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Yeah, annoying, isn't it? One of my characters was supposed to be safely quarantined up a mountain in Switzerland, ready to speak to the UN in Geneva (The USA hadn't wanted to risk exposure to interstellar germs in New York, thank you very much) and there he is, coming in to land in Säo Paulo on a false passport. (Well, since he's extrasolar it would have to be a false passport, wouldn't it?)

It took me ages to work out how he'd got out of the enclosure and bypassed the troops, and the Brazilians wouldn't just send him back, so the story stalled over diplomatic niceties and polite insults until his suitcase full of imported food was almost empty.

Most embarrassing.
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:45 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I agree with everyone else so far, that characters will go and do what they are meant to go and do. The way that I get them to follow where I want them to go is to sit them down and find out more about them when I get an inkling they are wanting to deviate from my plot idea.
This happened several times in my (currently) abandoned novel, first the MC started falling for the wrong guy, then the villain refused to show up and be villainous. After talking maters through with them I found out that I had been forcing things with my MC and she really did want the hero after all but I had to let her have her way about being conflicted over it. The villain hated that I had just typecast him with out bothering to find out anything about him and was put up by his half brother to set me straight.
I think my hero might be flat in that story because we never talk he just meekly goes where I tell him and lets me torture him mercilessly. And since it stopped making sense why she would choose him in the end I had to stop writing it. (that and my dialog was beyond ridiculous, the style juvenile, and the story lost in the telling)

So now I sit everyone down when they show up and (like a DM) get them a char-sheet before we move on. That way if they do something 'unexpected' in the story at least I know why and can turn it to my advantage.
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:47 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Oh, heck, I've given up with mine, and go with the flow now. One of them wants to have a terribly posh accent and I've tried to talk to him about it - got me a few odd looks in the shop as I recall - but he still has it. I've decided its the sign of a well realised character; you have to look at the positives.
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Old 21st November 2011, 04:59 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

What kind of bananas?
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Old 21st November 2011, 05:19 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

You're not bananas. When I go to bed at night, I always think about my characters and I just let them run free in the world I've created and every single time they choose different paths, other romantic interests, react differently then I thought they would. So, naturally, the next day, I always end up rewriting multiple pages, because I feel the need to make sure that I never write against my characters' true nature. I love them too much to do that to them.
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Old 21st November 2011, 06:11 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Anybody whose characters don't do their own thing, shouldn't be writing.
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Old 21st November 2011, 07:03 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?
You do realize that the two things are not mutually exclusive?

When I stopped being able to write for years and years, someone I knew asked me how that could possibly happen if you were a writer, and I said, "The characters stopped talking to me."

His face fell and he said in a hushed voice, "That's terrible."

And it was.

Sure I could have written just any slop, but I didn't want to write anything while my characters were so silent, because I had tried and it wasn't any good.

Where other people fear going insane, I think one of the worst things that can happen to a writer is that they go sane instead, and imaginary people stop talking to them.
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Old 21st November 2011, 07:29 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Are my characters real - No but I sure as heck wouldn't dare tell them that. They'd beggar off for a few days. One lot tend to go camping (given the particular couple I need stress it involves canvas). Have I ever had control over them - hell no.

I am currently writing a detective story about Dr. Joseph Cream and DI Timothy Black. My original thought was a gruesome thriller with two serial killers picking off Neo Nazis and killing them in front of churches. (They also had wives, families, were hyper respectable).

I wrote two paragraphs where they literally came out of the closet as detectives (Joe started off a policeman but resigned at end of first story). They were in the cleaning cupboard of a police station - I am guessing as Joe had his belt off and Tim's shirt was untucked .... it became something along the lines of a cosy mystery with a gay love story.
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Old 21st November 2011, 08:03 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Sounds like an excellent read Anya, and a fine example of not knowing what happens next with a character (not to say why you need your final editing after you know what they all get up to.)
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Old 21st November 2011, 09:15 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEeY4AAIG7g

This song is from the musical City of Angels it is an interaction between a writer and his character. It perfectly describes my relationship with mine. I swear most of them see me as a necessary evil/irritant because I have fingers and can type their story for them.

Quote:
Sounds like an excellent read Anya, and a fine example of not knowing what happens next with a character (not to say why you need your final editing after you know what they all get up to.)
Thanks lol - I don't just edit - I rewrite the draft several times from scratch until i happy with it. They still mutate the story when I am editing. On the final spit and polish of one of my fantasy novels I discovered two of my characters on the 'good' side had known the king was going to be harmed and sat by and watched it happen. Because they stood by around 250 people got killed. That was a huge revelation.

Last edited by AnyaKimlin; 21st November 2011 at 09:27 PM.
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