This post has its roots in character Madeleine O’Brien’s guest post last Saturday. I mentioned in a reply to 4amWriter’s comment that character insights into an author could be an interesting exercise. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
For me, this isn’t difficult. My characters insisted on the chance to write posts for the blog. If I was going to write about them, they were determined to write about me and their views on the books. I didn’t argue. I know better. It’s probably obvious from this paragraph that I’m in the school of thought that the characters really exist “out there,” somewhere. If you’re one of my classmates, you might already have a good idea what your characters think of you.
But even if you believe characters are entirely your creation, may I suggest giving them the chance to voice their thoughts about you? I think the exercise is a great complement to those a writer undertakes to learn more about his characters. You might be surprised and learn something new about your writing and work-in-progress.
Take Madeleine’s guest post, for example. She slipped in an innocuous sentence about me taking too much dictation from the characters of Summer at the Crossroads, the first book I drafted. And when I typed up her words, I had to admit, she was right. Being so inexperienced, I gave the characters free rein at first. Now, with more words under my belt and reading up on writing do’s and don’ts, I know I have some overhauling to do.
But Madeleine was also subtly reminding me that I have to make her story work in written form in this world. She and the other characters provide the ideas, not the right words. The ideas in our heads are usually more complex than we can clearly write. No one wants to read a novel with complete conversations and play-by-play descriptions of the action. No agent would touch it. And a self-published book would be ridiculed in the reviews. We, the writers, have to edit those incredible ideas into something worth reading.
Madeleine had already made these points clear, before we did that post. But writing up the post was a great refresher for me, making me remember how important her thoughts were.
Sometime, when you’ve written yourself into a corner or you’re facing a brick wall, turn the pen or computer over to one of your characters. Let them tell you what they think. Are they unsure what to write? Offer ideas—maybe something like these.
- What do they think of the corner you’re in? Did you have them do something out of character to get there? Should they be stuck like this? Maybe some scenes need to be deleted and replaced with others.
- What do they think of your portrayal of them? Are they happy with it? Or have you missed something important in them, like a crush on a minor character or their continuing grief over someone’s death long ago?
- Have you got the main plot correctly identified? Is there a subplot you’ve overdone or missed?
These are just a few suggestions. But I suspect if you sit quietly for a few minutes, your characters will have no trouble in making their thoughts about you and the writing clear. Listening to them may surprise you. And I think the insights are worth the time.