I’m back, and as promised, I will be writing about a writer’s relationship with characters.
Now this topic is one T.R. Graves and I have discussed a lot! Although some writers will disagree, it is very, very important to connect with your characters on an almost supernatural level.
LET ME TELL YOU HOW IT WORKS (for me).
My characters and I are one, although they are far more experienced in life than I am. Let me walk you through my basic day. I wake up, usually from a dream either about friends of mine or my characters. There have been some dreams about my characters that I have woken up from that made me pause and question who I am. In some of my dreams, I become my characters. And, I know that sounds like I should be locked up for psychiatric help, but that is the life of a writer (#itsawriterthing). I go to work with my characters lingering throughout my thoughts. Leave me alone for five minutes and I’ll be in my book. I will be interacting with my character and them with me (or maybe not so much, we will get to this later). I go through my day thinking up conversations, replaying scenes, really, really trying to get to know the subtleties that hide inside my characters. Let me tell you, it works. Give me a situation or opinion provoking something and I could tell you in detail how each of my characters would feel about it or do, better than I could say for me. My day goes on, I write, and eventually I go to sleep thinking about my characters, playing out more scenes. Side note: sometimes I am working on a different book and characters from one of them will be like, that right there sounds more like a _______ comment than _______. They are always right (right here I almost wrote write. I swear writing really is engrained in me. I always want an opportunity to use the word or write the word ‘write’).
More than that though, I really love my characters. They are a part of me. I don’t know what I would do without them. They are like Anne (my muse and BFF) I would be so, so very lost without them. There are times where I don’t know how to react to a situation and I say to myself, “What would Jake, or character x do?” Most of the time that works.
I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE! YAY!
There are a lot of writers who are like me, even ones that write for screen. March 2010 I met Lee Goldberg (Monk), Paul Wagner (Documentaries), and Hugh Wilson (Bay Watch) to name just a few writers. They were on a panel talking about screen writing and characters and everything. It was awesome. Hugh Wilson was talking and said, “You write and a character says something and everything changes. That is almost spiritual.” This couldn’t be truer. My characters have flipped my story inside out more than once. Plus, I have to add this made me feel more normal! Here is this widely known and hugely popular writer, who gets it, who has the spiritual connection with his characters.
Nola Sarina (Gilded Destiny, Jaded Touch, plus an upcoming co-author Wild Hyacinthe) agrees with my stance and like me lets her characters take over, “Sometimes, during revision, writing from scratch gets a sharper voice than re-wording what’s already there. I like to step away from a story for a while and then let the character tell me the story again from his fresh, enlightened perspective – allowing the character to grow with my style.”
I talked with Nola extensively one day about this and wrote something to her, that I want to share on here (it is only slightly edited to make sense for the blog post): “I promise you, I have looked up from writing and looked to the left and said, ‘but this is my book.’ I hear laughter. And I just sit there in protest until I let Devon have his way. The book and characters take life...we are their way of becoming known, it’s not the other way around. We don't make them known, they makes us known. I think they are their own wonderful breed that we must take dictation from because I have fought him and it turned out horribly, and when I listen to him, it is flawless.”
There are many other writers out there that go through this, it is normal, don’t medicate! There are some writers who don’t and that is okay, “to each his own”. And then there are some writers who refuse to admit that they do this, because they are afraid of how they will be received. To those writers, don’t worry, allow your characters to take charge and scream it from the mountain and we here will welcome you with open arms and similar war stories. We love meeting our own people!
BUT, BUT IT IS MY BOOK!
I know your book is your baby, but so are your characters. And your characters are living the story so if they stop you or you get massively painful writer’s block, then your characters are trying to tell you something. The book I am writing, (Devon’s book) at times I have fought with my characters or Devon and wanted something specific to happen or not happen because I am the writer and it is my $*&%$@&@* book! I have felt my characters leave me, until I give in and let them write the book and write what happens to them (basically what I said to Nola in my quote earlier). They are ALWAYS right, always! It is obnoxious. Like sometimes to the point where I want to punch my characters, because it is my book and I should have control, but no, they took life and took over. My book would be nothing or horrible if I didn’t listen to them. After all they know themselves the best; we can pretend we know them as well and 100%, but we don’t. We may never, and that is okay, really it is. I don’t think we are ever really supposed to know our characters, because then writing wouldn’t be magical. It would be boring and a task. Eventually we will get to know them quite well and almost 100% but there will always be that magical percent that adds the beautiful mystique that hold us hostage as writers. I mean, really think about it, do you really know yourself? Do you really know anybody? And I am not talking like knowing their favorite color or birthday or food. I mean really knowing someone. There are always buried deep secrets that we won’t admit to ourselves, let alone other people. And if we do that, why do we demand we know our characters? They deserve privacy too.
ON A CLOSING NOTE
When you are writing and editing and thinking and plotting, take a step back. Take a step back and put your character into a completely new situation. You don’t have to physically write it, but really, really think into the story, make it as real as the story you are writing, tell people about it if you have to get opinions (this is what it takes to write a book). Because based on your characters reactions to the new situation or terrible situation (let’s face it most of us are sadistic and torture our poor loves. We need to though, if people wanted to read happy books about rainbows and butterflies, they’d be in the children’s section not YA and others) you will learn so much about them. How they breathe, what position they sleep in, how they smell, their favorite shower gel, laundry detergent, cologne/perfume, how they feel, how they feel things themselves. How they feel—I can honestly describe my characters down to the touch, how their embraces feel, what their arm feels like when relaxed and touched or tensed and touched, what their hair feels like, the sound of their voice, the sound of their breathing awake versus sleeping, ugh I could go on and on and on. These aren’t things that necessarily need to make it into the book, but they need to make it into our hearts and brains to make the story work. Back to my point, throw them into an unscripted, unwritten plot and see how they react, because it will grow them and you and you will learn them even more, and that will make your story worth reading and re-reading and sharing.
My next post will talk about the importance of music while writing.
Peace, Love, and Inspiration
Keep writing and remember
Listening to: Shattered by David Hodges album: Trading Yesterday (More Than This)
Quote: "When I write, I go to live inside the book. By which I mean, mentally I can experience everything I’m writing about. I can see it, hear its sounds, feel its heat or rain. The characters become better known to me than the closest family or friends. This makes the writing-down part very simple most of the time. I only need to describe what’s already there in front of me. That said, it won’t be a surprise if I add that the imagined worlds quickly become entangled with the so-called reality of this one. Since I write almost every day, and I think (and dream) constantly about my work, it occurs to me I must spend more time in all these places than here." - Tanith Lee