So I have the basic layout of my story. … The problem is my characters won’t let me stick to my admittedly sketchy outline and keep taking me off on tangents. So my question is, do you ever let your characters run roughshod over your supposed plot and see where it leads you? Or do you whip them into shape and try to at least pretend you are sticking to your original plot line. I’m worried if let my characters have free rein, I’m going to lose all semblance of a story arc and end up with a rambling mess that even major surgery can’t bring back to an understandable plot line.
You are right. You will end up with a rambling mess.
Hey, I told you we would be honest. 🙂
First, let’s get something out of the way: your characters are figments of your imagination. They are not separate people. Try to keep that in mind. You’ll hear people talk about writing and say things like, “Oh my characters are just not speaking to me” etc. What they usually mean is, the story is borked, they know it’s borked, but they don’t know why, so they are waiting for the subconscious to sort it out. Their characters aren’t just magically going to write the story for them. Remember, it’s you. Your mind, your imagination. There is nobody else.
When we create characters, we aim for them to fill a specific role in the story. Real people are infinitely complex. Ted Bundy murdered women, saved a drowning child, and worked at a suicide prevention hot line. Real life doesn’t have to make sense. Fiction does.
Most likely, you created all these cool characters and now you want to play with them, because there is something about them that you find fascinating. You are attracted to them, they are easy to write, and off you go off the beaten path into the woods.
The problem isn’t the characters. The problem is, your outline doesn’t utilize them to their fullest potential. You are bored with your outline. Pick you protagonist. Pick your antagonist. Now think of the way to showcase the best of each. Build your story around that. You know you hit pay dirt, when you find yourself anticipating writing the next scene. You should be chortling and rubbing your hands in anticipation.
It’s like climbing up a mountain carrying a rock. You set up, set up, set up, get to the top, and then the rock goes flying and all of the sahanu are dead.
For example, in Clean Sweep, there is a tortuously long build up between Sean and Dina. The reader knows Dina has magic powers. Sean doesn’t. He pushes her and pushes her and the reader is sitting there and going, “Oh boy, oh boy, she’s going to let him have it and won’t he be surprised?”
Look at your characters and really think about what story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.
Writing fiction involves keeping several development balls in the air. Tensions are created between world building, character building, plot development, and conversation development, which can cause one or more of those activities to suffer. A great character with some witty dialogue one-liners can wander through a plot-development desert for several chapters. You can conceive of an amazing world, but the characters act like NPCs rather than fulfillers of their own fictional destiny. In your development and maturing as professional writers, what tricks have you developed in terms of managing these tensions in your writing projects and getting them to the intended end goal?
“A great character with some witty dialogue one-liners can wander through a plot-development desert for several chapters.” No, they really can’t.
Each scene in your story must advance plot and character. It varies to which degree these two aspects are present.
This is a complicated question, because there are two arcs in the narrative: emotional and external. Sometimes there are scenes that appear to be dealing with just one of them.
The best advice I can give you is, look at your narrative scene by scene. With every scene ask yourself, “Do I have to have this to tell the story?” If the answer is no, cut it. Once you are left with a lean outline, instead of trying to make separate scene for character development, weave it into the scenes you already have. It should give you a solid foundation.
For example, a pirate dude captures a beautiful woman and seduces her. Character development scene, right? She gives him leprosy and his crew offloads him on a deserted island. There you go, now it’s both plot and character. 🙂
While I am not a writer, I do play a lot of DnD where you get to create a bunch of different characters (yes I am a huge nerd) either as the DM or just as a player. I have found that diversifying the characters personalities I create is difficult (they all kind of fall back on my own eventually).How have you found way to keep you characters personalities distinct from each other throughout your series without them falling back into your own personality?
I suspect that your ethics keep getting in the way. You have a strong sense of right and wrong, and when confronting a problem, you, and your characters, are thinking about the best way to resolve it according to your set of values. Try to look at it from their point of view.
Let’s do a little exercise. Here is the quiz that’s trying to help you find your place in Kate’s Atlanta. There are 6 possible answers: the Order, the Pack, the People, the Covens, the Guild, and PAD. Instead of trying to answer them as yourself, try to take this quiz as one of the characters from a faction. Like how would Jim answer it? How would Nick answer it? See if you can put yourself into the mindset of a particular character and get the right faction at the end.