Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just when you think you know someone . . .

Sometimes you have to go through a lot of sh*t with someone to really know who they are.  Not only is this true in life, but it's also true in the fictional world. 

As I stated in my last blog post, I've been busy editing my current project.  During this process, I've had more what-the-hell-was-I-thinking moments than I care to admit to.  I understand this is normal (at least I'm hoping it is), but there was one oopsie that really stuck out in my mind.  It had to do with my main character and her reaction to something said by her friend (a.k.a, future love interest).  Her reaction in this particular scene was totally uncharacteristic.  It was as if she had multiple personality syndrome, and one of her alter egos wanted to come out and play.  Seriously. 

One of the first things we learn about writing fiction, is that we have to know our main characters inside and out.  We have to know what kind of music they like, what kind of food they eat, favorite colors, political views, hobbies, etc., etc.  Before I even start a project, I do character sketches--nothing fancy, just a hand written page for each character, briefly describing them.  I thought I had done my homework and had a good idea who my main character was, but when I encountered that particular scene mentioned above, I realized I hadn't.  And to be honest, I'm not beating myself up about it. 

Just like with real life, you can think you know everything about someone, but often, you don't really know what he/she is made of until you go through some rough times together.  Think of relationships you've had with people in the past, and I'm sure you'll find this to be true. 

It took finishing my novel to really realize who my character is.  She's still the same girl I dreamt up in my mind seven months ago, but I now have a better understanding of how her life experiences have affected who she is and how she reacts in certain situations.  Sure, I have ideas of how I would like my character to act, but just like we can't control the people around us, we can't make our characters act the way we want them to act; we have to let them be themselves (some of you will get this, and others will probably think I'm losing my mind). 

To clarify what I'm saying, let me give you an example.  I'm currently reading a book, and I'm really confused by the main character--I can't firmly grasp who she is.  The author has her acting one way around her friends and a totally different way around her boyfriend--and not in the intentional way either.  I almost get the feeling like the author was more worried about the individual scenes as opposed to staying true to the character. 

Sometimes we become so concerned with mechanics and plot, that we forget about the characters.  It's okay to have your characters change/grow over the course of the novel, but just make sure the change is a natural progression due to circumstances in the story and not because you want a more exciting scene.  If that particular scene in my WIP hadn't been so in-your-face horrible, I might've breezed by it; but because it was, I now find myself paying closer attention to my mc's actions and dialogue. 

Well, I'm off to fix some more identity-crisis moments.  I hope everyone enjoys the rest of their week! :o)



  1. What an awesome post, Angela! And you're so right. I read a book recently myself that had me wondering what was going thru the author's head while writing it. And anytime you stop to wonder what the author was thinking, you KNOW that's a bad sign.

    But to stop and wonder what the character is thinking, that's a whole other thing. Because at least then, you're still in the mindset of the story, still have your suspension of disbelief blinders on. The author should never intrude during the story. Period.

    And BTW, good for you for finding your mistakes and fixing them! Takes a good writer to do that. :)

  2. This is such a good post, and I think you nailed it on the head. The character is a complete person and our job is to make sure that's translated throughout the book. You might not write about her affinity for goats in knee-high stockings, or disdain for shellfish or anything else from the sea, but all of THAT STUFF makes her the way she is in all situations.

    Cheers to you for clearly explaining a complicated concept very well. Mua, are fabulous, friend.

  3. I know EXACTLY what you're talking about! I had that same issue in my novel. I had something happen in my novel, and my agent told me I should consider changing it. "But it'll mess up my whole plot!" I whined. And she said to me, "Maybe, but it's not what your character would do! Either change the plot or fix the problem with your character." And I realized she was totally right! I was sacrificing my character to serve the plot, when really, the plot had to work for my character! (Did that make sense?) Fabulous that you were able to spot this yourself. I find I'm often blind to these things in my own writing.

  4. @Anita- EXACTLY! While reading the book I'm referring to, I keep finding myself thinking, "What exactly is the author trying to do here?" No reason or clues are given as to why the shy and reserved mc suddenly turns into a pushy vixen around her boyfriend. The split personality thing seems so obvious to me, I just assume it must be intentional, but for the life of me, I can't understand why!

    @Bethany- Right on, sister ;o) The reader doesn't have to know all of these things, but as the writer, it helps us construct a more believable character. :o)

    @Jenny- That made TOTAL sense. After I fixed that one scene I was referring to, I had to make major changes in the four chapters that came after--all because of a change I made in one little paragraph. My plot changed a little, but I think my ms is so much stronger now because of it.

  5. I completely understand. I actually had a moment in my current work-in-progress where my main character made a terrible decision and I'm not sure where it came from it. It was not something I thought that she would do. It took me a little bit to realize that I wouldn't do it, but it was actually something she would do. It caused an interesting change in my novel, but I think it turned out well.

  6. EXCELLENT post, Ms. Angela! Now I'm off to see if my MC has suddenly developed a multiple-personality disorder. ;)

  7. @Krista- Yes, sometimes it's hard to keep our own feelings, personality, beliefs, etc. out of our writing. Good for you for staying true to your character!

    @Cherie- Thank you, Ms. Cherie ;o)

  8. Great post! I actually didn't do a character sketch until I was half-way through my book (I know, I naive and I thought I could just write and be published, ha!)anyway the result is that I am re-writing the ENTIRE book. Yup, lesson learned I guess.