Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Voices in My Head

1:43 PM | ,

"I killed Ash today." I picked up one of my fries and popped it into my mouth. "It made me sad but I had no choice. He had to go."

Dennis just nodded. "That's too bad. I know how much you liked him."

It's not unusual for me to tell my husband about my writing over the evening meal. Tonight it was Mickey D's. The person in the next booth gave me a wide-eyed look before they gathered up the last of their meal and scurried away to dump their trash.What had to be going through their minds as they pulled out of the parking lot?

So, yes, the characters in my books have a tendency to use my head as their personal playground. The craziness hits when I'm so into the story that they become real. They aren't just little cut-outs to move around in my busy brain. They have goals, motivation, and conflict-- just like the rest of us. That's the most important thing to remember when writing--give your characters life. Make them well-rounded, even the villains. They are as important as your hero or heroine. Use a deep point of view whenever possible to get the reader inside the character's head.

I like to think of my books as character driven but with a strong plot line. I chart my characters well before I ever sit down to write the actual story. I make out a list of their history, their likes, dislikes, their goal, motivations, conflicts and even little quirks they may have. This way I know if something doesn't feel right. Is the motivation too weak, are the conflicts enough to carry the story? So do I even care if this character lives or dies? Are the stakes high enough?

The next thing I do is an outline. Yes, I used to be a pantser but my current and former critique partners have shown me the light. I can write much faster if I know where I'm going and what my characters are doing at any given point. I still allow myself wiggle room for creativity. One critique partner keeps a firm rein on her characters at all times. She doesn't allow them out to play. This is the way she works. Everyone is different. Another critique partners has a list of high points and where her characters intersect but she still has a steady hand at the wheel. My outlines tend to be more like a ten to fifteen page synopsis with the character chart attached. This is when I sit down to write the book.

And then it happens.

Regardless of all my fine planning, my characters let me know if I'm trying to make them go in a direction they shouldn't. I can almost see them with their arms crossed over their chests with a belligerent look on their faces. I created them one way and if I try to write them into a situation that doesn't fit, the book comes to a screeching halt. Like people everywhere, they have to be true to themselves.

So, yes, your characters can drive you crazy, you fall in love with them, and when you really love a secondary character--that's the time to kill them off, or save them for another book. Either way, they have to fade into the sunset.

I know every writer approaches their books in different ways, but I don't know of one that hasn't had a character stop them dead in their track at some point. It happens. And when it does, listen to the voices in your head. They are your friends.

Dyann Love Barr

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Alta said...

Great post :)
I've had strange looks while discussing characters in public. I've found the phrase - It's okay, I'm a Writer - works well. In fact, I want it on a t-shirt :)
Sorry you had to kill someone :(
Happy writing!

Claire Ashgrove said...

Very true, Dyann. Particularly the kill 'em or save 'em part. I killed one character I dearly loved. Thankfully a beta-reader cried over it ;)

Usually I save 'em. But that's me being sappy. Occasionally though, they have to get the axe.

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