Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

When Characters Develop
Minds of Their Own

By
Laura Brewer

2003, Laura Brewer

ow do you know when you have a really good character?  It goes beyond the character sketches and background facts.  We all know it takes more than an interesting description, or an unusual occupation, to make a character come alive.  Each of us must make room in our imaginations for the characters to dwell between writing sessions.  It is here that we breathe life into them.  From this mysterious part of our minds they, in turn, breathe life into our writing. 

Sometimes the process is fast, as if the character is waiting for us.  Other times the imagination must labor to give them birth.  I would strongly advise daydreaming when this happens.  Take your 'not quite alive' character and put him through some scenarios to see how he behaves.  Force a reaction to a set of challenges, but don't control it.  Sit back and watch.  At some point in this process you will notice a change.  The character will push back.  Not only will they react, but they'll initiate action.  If you pay attention, they will begin to tell you what needs to happen next. 

When I first started writing, I used this process unconsciously as I set the scenes in my mind before putting them in words.  Fortunately for my tender fledgling ego, the characters and I had similar ideas on what was going to happen in the first part of my book.  About halfway through that changed.  I was busy typing as the scene unfolded.  It was one of those wonderful times when the words flow with little or no effort.  Then I read over what I had just typed.  Unplanned by the supposed author of this work, the hero revealed a talent I didn't even know he had.  What surprised me more was to realize that he needed this talent.  Without it, he would have had a hard time with what the plot throws at him later in the story, and the second book would not have worked at all. 

I'm still not quite sure how my own creation could take over the task of actually writing, but I'm getting used to it.

Unfortunately it does not always work out so well.  The second book was moving well until one of the characters developed this little quirk.  He started chasing women.  For a while I ignored his activities.  I let him go off on his own when he wasn't 'on stage' in the story.  His little romantic adventures never made it into type.  They didn't usually reach a conscious level in my planning and I didn't really notice the charisma he was developing.  When he started paying attention to the Admiral's daughter I pulled him up short.  I could see where this was heading.  This time, he had gone too far!  I rewrote the scene several times.  I took the girl out of the scene.  The scene, the whole chapter, didn't work.  I set the project aside for a while in frustration.

When I came back to it and read over the various versions of the chapter I realized the character had won this round.  I did the only thing that I could do.  I let the romance develop and married them two chapters latter.  It was the only way I could keep him for dominating every scene he was in.  I have a suspicion that there will be a reason for this by the time I get to the third book.

Writing becomes more like stage directing once the characters develop a life of their own.  You pull them out and tell them what they have to do.  Sit back and watch, and they'll take it from there.  A word of caution here - they will argue with you.  They will develop their own agenda, and will take you down side roads you least expect.  Oddly enough, I am finding they usually know what they're doing.

So who's really writing this book anyway?