Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More on Characters (yeah, I'm talking to you)

by KATE FALL on MARCH 29, 2009

Earlier this week, Christy had some great tips about taking our characters to the next level. Here’s a quote:

As writers, it’s our job to make our characters believable yet unforgettable.

I’d like to make something very clear here: Characters must also have a concrete motivation.

Oh, did you think I was addressing you, dear reader? No, I’d like to make this clear to the characters in my head. You know the type. They come begging you to tell their stories but on closer examination, the stories don’t hold up. Characters in my head, where are your motivations?

Freddie, I’m really sorry that a mystery person is leaving strange notes taped to your locker, but I can’t help you. I don’t know who is doing it or why. I have no idea what you should do about it. Why don’t you ask your friends, who I’d name (if I were writing your story, which I am NOT) Stella and Kim? They seem nice. You know, with such nice friends, I don’t see your life coming to a crisis any time soon, so maybe you should leave me alone.

And Regan? I don’t know why your sister is a liar. Really. No clue. So your tarot card readings come true and she takes credit for it. That’s your problem? Why does that even matter? Are you going to predict something earth shattering? If not, I don’t see how I can make a plot out of it. Maybe you should come back when you predict what your story is about.

Ruth, oh Ruth. I thought I’d hang with you for a while. You seemed interesting. But it was your setting I loved. 1899 Outerbanks of North Carolina in a hurricane is pretty interesting. I thought you’d have something to say. But all you came up with were tangents on whaling and Spanish treasure and then some wacky cousin from the mainland showed up … I don’t know where you’re going with this mishmash. What is it that you want?

Look, Characters in my Head, I appreciate you showing up and all, but I have enough problems trying to write stories for the characters withmotivations. So maybe you can come back around when you have something that you want and we can figure out what your story is then. Agreed?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina Farley 03.31.09 at 1:10 am

You are so right Kate. Those crazy characters of ours can get really out of control and make us forget all about that thing called plot.

Reesha 03.31.09 at 10:32 am

I agree. Often I struggle with seeing into my character’s mind and motivation. Probably because I struggle with seeing what my own motivation is. And even at times when I can pinpoint what I want, it’s hard to keep a carbon copy of myself out of my story.

The whole my-character-is-interesting-and-stuff-just-happens-to-him thing is so much easier to write than to create a living, breathing, human psyche on a 2 dimensional page.

Jarrett 04.01.09 at 4:28 pm

Fantastic post. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt obligated to try and work out the story of a character who has popped into my head. Thanks for helping me realize that I’m under no obligation to follow them around until they do something interesting.

Kate Fall 04.02.09 at 6:40 am

Right, Jarrett? Of course, sometimes I figure out months later what interesting thing they want and get angry at myself because I didn’t write the background to the story while it was fresh in my mind. But really, who has that kind of time on their hands? It’s like being angry at yourself for not doing Christmas shopping in the summer.

Jarrett 04.02.09 at 6:47 am

Those characters who come back just to rub it in your face are the worst. If they think I am going to try and tell their story now … well, they are probably right. But I won’t like it.

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