Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Confess! My Characters Made Me Do It!

Maybe I shouldn't admit this. Maybe I'm tarnishing the images of authors yet unborn or, even worse, yet unread. But the truth is, sometimes my ficitional characters take the wheel and start driving the car. And as wimpy as this may sound, that's as good as it gets.

"What are you talking about?" asks a young woman in the third row. "You invented these characters, didn't you? You can make them do anything you want them to do."

She's right. And she's wrong.

How many times have you read a story, or seen a movie, and said, "She wouldn't have done that." Or "He would have told her." Or, to paraphrase all such comments, "That's out of character."

If an author has fully developed the people in his story, everything they do--their actions, their words, the relationships they enter into or opt out of--everything will reflect their personalities, their passions and their peculiarities. And if that doesn't happen, the reader isn't going to believe it. So you'd better be careful when you create characters, because they'll start talking back to you.

Case in point: In my novel, The Wingthorn Rose (Sunstone Press), one of the major characters--Margot Sinclair--started life as a minor player. In my outline, she entered and exited in one scene. But when Lucas Murdoch (my protagonist) met her, he liked what she said--her refreshing honesty--her attitude. Not to mention her beauty. In fact, Margot took over the scene and made such an impression on Lucas that he began to move in a different direction--and so did the plot.

A young man in the fifth row just said, "I guess you just don't know how to stick to your outline."

On the contrary. When I write, I  most enjoy those moments when the work produces itself--when the story generates its own logic-- when the characters obey their own instincts. When the people I've created take over.

How do you feel about this, dear reader? Dear writer? Does this make sense to you?