Monday, February 10, 2014

Keep in Character

When I was in a writers' group in Seattle years and years ago, I had an argument with one of the other writers.  The normal practice was we'd read something we wrote and then the others would critique it verbally.  In the piece a character said, "Too cold to snow."  This woman said, "There's no such thing as 'too cold to snow.'"  I said, "Yes, I know that, but my character doesn't."  She then spent many minutes explaining how there is no such thing as "too cold to snow" because it snows in Antarctica where it is very very cold.  And I replied that I knew all that but my character did not.  And I tried to point out that people do say "too cold to snow."  Other writers in the group came to my defense be we had to, in the end, agree to disagree.

Earlier I wrote about my fear that a lot of my protagonists are near self-insertions (especially Michael Vaughan, the main character of Agent of Artifice).  But, in reality, I believe writers have to draw upon themselves and other people they know to develop characters.  So a little bit of self-insertion is inevitable.  It may not be the main character but there is often a character in the novel who represents the writer (I am convinced that is the role of Sancho Panza in Don Quixote.)

When I was in high school I acted in plays and took drama classes.  I wanted to be an actor.  And a writer.  And a fighter jet pilot (that last dream being destroyed by my coke-bottle thick glasses).  One thing they emphasize in drama class was "stay in character."  Even if the theater starts on fire, stay in character.  That means, of course, to keep acting like the character you are playing.

In writing, the author needs to keep his characters in character.  They shouldn't do things they wouldn't do.  This means you have to know a lot about them.  I write one to two page biographies, write a physical description, write their characteristics (e.g.: loner, coward, pathological liar).  I keep that handy (as a Word file) to reference as I write.

And still, my characters will break character if I'm not careful.  Then, of course, I have to re-write.  In my soon to be published urban fantasy Gods of Strife, for instance, a beta reader had to point out that I took a kick-ass female assassin and turned her into a sweet girl when she fell in love with my main character.  And my beta reader was right and that needed a re-write.

The aforementioned Michael Vaughan had no use for cars other than transportation (that other people are driving) and hated guns.  During the climax of the novel he needed to get away in a car.  But I couldn't have him suddenly start driving since he said more than once he didn't know how.  I had to come up with a minor character to drive the car (an "NPC" I call them, using a term from my role playing game days) named "Zack."  That also gave Vaughan someone to talk to about this situation resulting in this bit of dialogue that I really like:
"Do any good if I shoot it?" Zack asked, looking intently out the windshield as he gripped the steering wheel.
"Maybe get it mad."
"It's not mad now?" 
My point?  Keep your characters in character.  You may know it's too cold to snow but your character may not.  You may love cars (I do) but your character might have no use for them.  You're an introvert and hate parties.  Your character is a social butterfly and loves them.  Keep your characters in character.  It will make them believable and might lead to something unexpected in your writing (such as the above scene).

No comments:

Post a Comment