Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Control Over Development

I've discovered something interesting when I write.  Every character, just like every person in real life, has a personality distinct to itself.  Just as with friends, we discover this personality and person over time until we think we have a pretty good picture of who that person is.  Sometimes the person is just who we thought they'd be when we met them, and sometimes they surprise us, but each one is unique.

In writing, this can happen intentionally or unintentionally, but it will happen, so take control of it.  There have been times I've started a novel with a good idea of who the characters were, but I took little time in the beginning to develop them at the rate I wanted them developed.  What I discovered, much to my chagrin, is that the characters began to develop on their own, whether I wanted them to or not.

Every character that is going to have an impact on your story will make himself or herself known, but it's up to you to guide them into what they become.  You need to have a plan, preferably even before you outline, that lets you know the milestones along the road you have to see.  If not, they may grow in ways you didn't originally envision.  Maybe that confident man that is destined to save the world comes off as a bit meek.  Or, as happened with a work of mine, maybe the villain you meant to terrorize everyone, including the reader, comes off as bored with what he has to do rather than swept up by it.

I view this similar to the way we raise our kids - they're going to grow in unexpected ways anyway, but it will get completely out of control if we don't exert influence along the way.  I've had characters surprise me, but usually within the foundation I set up.  If I pay no attention to a character's growth, then I have no reason for surprise when they act in ways I didn't originally intend.

Like with your kids, take charge of your characters, all while accepting that they're going to do stuff that doesn't always make you happy.  However, if you guide them properly from the beginning, they'll usually turn out okay.

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