I have recently run a series of articles around what we can learn from writing. These included two great guest posts about language and learning from writing and then my own take on practice. I’m sure there are lots more than we discussed and everyone is going to learn all sorts of different things; whether strange or wonderful will also vary.
In relation to this I thought I would share the strangest thing I’ve learnt from my writing.
There are a lot of strange things I have learnt from my writing but top of the list is the life the characters develop; how real they can be and how demanding. I find that they tend to tell their own story and I’m just a medium between the character and the page. Sometimes they aren’t that clear and other times I have actually stopped typing and thought: “Wow! Where did that come from? Why did you say that? Is that why you have been behaving the way you have? or What do you know that I don’t?”
Most of my characters are far more intuitive and observant than I am.
Some of them are able to solve plot problems when I’m not, others create them. They live a life of their own.
It is a wonder where they come from. Whether my own imagination, my subconscious or my muse they seem to be separate entities from me. I may have created them, or given them life but they live that life how they like. More often than not they live how they see fit and not how I want them to. It’s like being a parent and hoping you kids grow up to be clever, useful sort of people in healthy relationships but they don’t. They do their own thing, experiment, get into fights, pick the wrong men, or miss out on the good ones.
The best way to deal with this? I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I let them go their own way and see what happens. If they drag the story too far from where I think it should be I try to reign them in. More often than not they know better than me what they’re doing and it’s better to wait it out and see where they are going.
I have been playing with character profiles as I think about a new project. The process helps me to think about the story development as well as the characters. This is something I haven’t really done before, I tend to start with an idea and watch the characters grow with the story.
Recently I was looking over my draft of the fantasy trilogy (Raven Crown) and I thought I needed to develop some serious character profiles for that one too. And in preparation for Iski I have started a similar process, but a much briefer character outline.
Something else I’m trying for Iski is to ‘cast’ the characters. So for each I have a picture of my ideal image for that character. I have found this helps to visualise the type of character they are as well as maintaining consistency when describing them. This was suggested by authors Johnny B Truant and Sean Platt when they described how they work and I’m using a range of actors and stock images to cast the story.
My draft for Raven Crown is all over the place. And I’m OK with that as it is the very first draft (what just falls out of my head onto the page) but the time will come soon enough when I need to fill in the blank bits and ensure my characters’ stories are complete. And with a clear understanding of each of those characters (for each book and the series) that will be a much easier process.
The only problem in doing this for Raven Crown is the number of characters. I have started comprehensive profiles for the main characters and then a simpler version for the secondary characters but at the moment there seems to be so many. Reading George RR Martin I always feel like he knows every character intimately, whether a main character or someone we only get a glimpse of. I’m not sure that I want to provide that level of detail, but I want my readers to know and love (or hate) my characters as much as I do and therefore the better I know them, the better I am able to write them.
This does increase my workload and I have loaded myself up fairly well. But the benefits of this work far outweigh the time taken. I have found the image/picture idea really useful and I would like to try that for my other projects as well. For my current work (in final edit stage) I have a photo for my main character but not the others. It could be a great use of my time when I’m feeling the pressure and I need a little escape, an hour or so scanning the internet for random red heads until I find the perfect image is surprisingly relaxing and then frees up my mind for writing when I need it.
How much detail do you develop for each character and is that before, during or after the drafting process?
When I start writing I often have little idea about the motivation for most of my characters. As I write this tends to reveal itself as I learn more about the characters. Sometimes it is not so easy and their motivation continues to elude me. I have this problem with a couple of my key characters at the moment.
My biggest problem is a duty focused soldier. He has been slowly falling for one of my main characters (and she him) but so far he has maintained the appropriate distance, if only just, for her sake rather than his own. Although at times he has endangered her and others inadvertently by being distracted by her rather than focusing on his job. But he is still a good soldier and he knows his place. My plan is that as this relationship changes he crosses a boundary that sets off a chain of events that are quite important to the plot.
The problem: would he cross that line? Really cross it in a can’t-go-back kind of way. Would his love for her blind him so much that he would forget his duty and his morals and who he is? He has managed to restrain himself for this long so what would tip his balance?
I have written the scene that pulls them together. First draft or course and I’m not happy with it yet but I looked back over it and thought – he wouldn’t really do that. Is love enough?
Funnily enough I understand her motivation quite well. What she needs and wants and why she is drawn to him and why she would risk it all to be with him. When I had imagined him in the outlining process he was a bit more fickle and carefree and was prepared to take those risks too. But once he hit the page he was something different, stronger, sterner and more sure of his duty and his place in the world. I just have to find the chink that would push him over his own boundaries…in a way it has to be because of who he is and what he believes that pushes him over that line but I haven’t quite worked out how to do that yet.
The last week did not quite go to plan but to ensure I continue to write I have been concentrating on that first and then other bits later (which means they have been put right off the list for the moment). I wrote 1500+ words a day (for six days and then on Sunday my chain broke). I have been rereading and rethinking bits of the story, such as the motivations above, but also a new antagonist idea has started to grow and I am excited to see how I can use that.
I seem to be metaphorically swinging a lot of swords around at the moment but have no real idea on how to make a mark on my opponent so some research still required. Getting the story down is the most important aspect at the moment and the research can filter in as I write and more so during the editing phase.
My characters seem to develop into something different to what I first imagined them to be and I enjoy that but when it gets in the way of the plot points what do you do?