1. izzi
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    izzi New Member

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    "Since when did you..." - Do They write themselves?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by izzi, Jan 14, 2009.

    I've read about other authors who create characters start-to-finish with brown hair, named Jasmine and likes peanuts.

    But for me, the characters create themselves.

    Like the other day I was talking to another author about a vampire novel (of the Anne Rice variety) that they had been reading and I got this mental image of this vampire dressed in winter clothing sitting under an umbrella at high noon in the middle of summer. As much as I tried to discard the idea I couldn't ignore it and now I've got my first vampire character, a suicidal one at that. *headdesk*

    I can't complain too much though. It can be pretty entertaining for me and often times there are surprises and plot twists that I never see coming.

    But it's also very hard for me to write a believable story on-command. :/

    It's like my characters are different people,
    they have their own ideas about how they should look and who they are.

    Does this happen to anyone else? ;;;​
     
  2. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Yes. Frequently.

    A character idea popped into my mind some time back and, quite interested, I started daydreaming and developing him. Then he ended up going in a completely opposite direction from the one I wished him to take. Another character of mine refuses to do what I keep wanting him to do. It's frustrating at times, but I know that what "they want" is better than what I want to force them to do.

    Some people say that characters are completely under a writer's control and should never "run away" from us--I disagree. While it's true that we create them, some aspects of character creation may be unconscious to us (the character willing one thing while we want them to do another), and often, a character "running away" from us is the very best thing that can happen.
     
  3. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a really common question. There must be hundeds of threads on this topic floating around the internet.

    I've heard views on both sides, and while I respect authors who are in "total control" of their characters, that isn't the way I view my own process. I start out with a basic character, and without concious work, like profiles and interviews and such, they develop on their own. I don't really know how they'll respond to an event until it happens. But I don't think that, for me, "running away" really describes my characters. I have few and weak expectations to start with, and the characters grow organically from their experiences. Every once in a while, I might come up with a trait/attitude/whatever, and test it out on a character, but I don't force it on them.
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yes, it happens to all crazy people like myself. :eek:

    I wanted this character, Charlie to have dark emo hair, but he wanted dirty-blonde, and short, and spikey hair that spikes in all directions. Whatever, Charlie, you're so picky.
     
  5. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    Nope it's never happened to me. Whenever I write something that is not in intent to I created originally, I immediately delete it and fix it so I can maintain that image.
     
  6. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    IA with this post.

    I've often found characters "run away" from me. But often it has been for the good of the character. Sometimes they run straight into the grave unfortunately, and I hate that cause I liked a lot of them. :( (Poor Danny) But it's still for the best. My characters write themselves a lot and take on a life of their own.
     
  7. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    See, what I've figured is that, as fiction writers, we're still writing about people/creatures that should be realistic and dynamic so we have to allow them the manifest and mature eventhough they're technically our own creation to do with as we wish. I feel that "forcing' a characater to do something because it's what I want themto do is akin to an overbearing parent hampering his/her child's development into an independant thing. How many times have you read a good novel and thought "wow, I can't believe the author let him/her do that?" If you have, then I am sorry; but you're mostly caught up with the character to know that it would have done this. To me, a good story is one where you glimpse into another's life, not one where an author had dictated what a caharacter does and how it devlops. If that were the case, then we'd never feel sympathy for the villain, never understand the antagonist' reasons, and the protagonist would become too unrealistic to relate to.

    Oh, and yes, my character are my own creations, but their own consciences.
     
  8. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    I don't know, in most works I don't ever feel sympathy for the villain even though I know most of their motivations. Joker, Voldemort, Kuja. I never felt for any of them.
     
  9. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    That's what I meant by sympathy, I just couldn't find the proper word. But you understand what I mean, right?
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In complete agreement with you here, Tehuti.

    My characters normally come to me in the same data stream as the story line, plot, background, color, smell, feel, look, movement, and direction of the rest of the story. They are not preexisting Mr & Mrs Potatoheads upon which I hang the story like accessorial attachments. I think of my characters as intrinsic tools of the story telling process. I don't treat them like people I know and would like to write a story about. They are there to tell the story, the story is not there to tell them.
     
  11. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    Nope.
     
  12. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    There's no true insight into any characer unless the author allows the character to develop in its own right, even if that means going against what the author might have originally intended.
     
  13. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    A suicidal vampire? That's tragically ironic. Let's just hope she isn't afraid of the sun. :cool:
     
  14. Tulip
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    Tulip New Member

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    Well, I've found my characters to be slightly different to how I plan them but that's 'cause I use profiles to make notes of how I'd like them to be and I refer to the profile only for likes, dislikes, birthplaces etc. I keep a basic idea of what they're like in my mind and try to let them develop natural personalities as opposed to one I've noted down.
     
  15. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I've never had this happen to me. I come up with characters to fulfill a need presented by my story. If the character I come up with at first isn't working out, I make the needed changes myself, consciously. They're under my absolute control. No "independent thought," no surprises for the writer... I don't know what this business of having characters "run away from you" is all about, but it sounds interesting. :p

    Even the finer details of their personalities tend to be decided before I even write anything about them, and 99% of the time, no changes are needed once I start to put them on paper/white screen. I'm not bragging or anything; I just put a lot of thought into character creation. It's my favorite part of the whole process.
     
  16. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    FMK brings up a good point, his characters stay under his control because he spend time specifically developing them (is this before or during writng by the way); I think my characters have the chance to "run away" because I have more fun with the story itself and character interactions.

    Knowing that I like interactions more so than narration, my writing is dialogue heavy and saturated with more beats and fewer paragraphs simply devoted to narration; what about yours FMK?
     
  17. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I tend to spend days thinking about a character before writing anything about them. It's a good way to pass the time whenever I don't feel like writing.
     
  18. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is pretty much how it works for me, too. I personally don't see how characters can write themselves unless the author knows nothing about the character at all and makes it up as he/she goes. Of course, I'm also of the belief that characters only exist as a means to convey theme (or plot in some cases, if necessary).
     
  19. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    My MC completely changed on me. When I started writing, he was all happy and cheery (this was around five years ago when I started trying to write short stories about him). But, in the last year or so, he's gone kinda dark and cynical. Personally, I just think it makes him a bit more interesting and human. But I didn't really think about it, it just kind of came to be.
     
  20. ConnorMack
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    ConnorMack Member

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    I have that same thing! I once had a supporting character that was completely happy and carefree, always supportive of others and friendly in every sense of the word. As I write him more, however, he begins to grow deeper to me, becoming a man who hides behind smiles in order to protect those he cares about.

    In fact, many of my characters change. A super soldier went from a tough guy with one-liners and bad-butt skills in my very early writing to a mute who is optimistic and friendly despite his lifestyle and the challenges he faces, albeit now he's kind of clumsy, and has a phobia of touch. Therefore he won't ever leave his suit when other people are around.

    I think that characters start out rough, as they're just a clump of ideas and emotions, just as we ourselves start out as a clump of flesh. Soon they grow on you, and before long you get to know them so well that you don't even need to think 'What's Sam gonna do in this situation?' Instead, the character has developed him/herself so well in your head that, like many have said, they run away from you and begin to live their own lives, not what you want them to live.
     
  21. Noodleguy
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    Noodleguy Senior Member

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    Exactly. The characters are tools, nothing more, nothing less. I think it all boils down to what the author's goal for the story is. A good piece of writing will have a point, lesson, moral, or something of that nature. Perhaps more than one point. It must have a purpose though. Character-driven writing is without a purpose. It might be fun, and it isn't a bad way just to practice writing, but in the end it isn't going to mean anything. The character's purpose is to do what you want them to do.

    Now, that being said...their actions *must* be believable. That means that, as much as you may wish for your protagonist to step to the right, if it is only in character for them to step to the right they better step to the right! You cannot unnaturally force a character to do something that would be out of character. But this isn't a problem of people who "control" their characters: it is a tool of people who don't. Whn you don't have control over your character, and you can't make their actions both believable and flowing with the story...then you are forced to make your character act unnaturally. If the character is a seamless part of the story as a whole, and he/she exists to serve only your purposes...what's the problem?

    You should know the message of your story before you write it. Then things develop from there. So the best route is somewhere in the middle: Never force a character's actions, and never make it hat you should have to force a character's actions.
     
  22. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    I disagree. I've read plenty of (good) stories without a lesson or moral. And I hate it when some writers force it. For example, a story about a thief, planning to rob a bank. We sympathize with the thief, his situation, etc. At the climax, after he has robbed the bank and fled from the police, the thief gets shot (without any foreshadowing) by a minor character to point out that "crime doesn't pay". It's like a slap on the face.

    You could find a point in the writing, even if the author meant nothing, but that's beyond the author; it wasn't planned. The 'goal' of a good piece could be nothing more than getting it sold (i.e: being entertaining) or just because the author had a story he needed to tell.
     
  23. Noodleguy
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    Noodleguy Senior Member

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    That's the goal of pulp fiction, not of literature. Writing done that way is never going to be as powerful or inspiring as writing done with a purpose. Same goes for writing done just to be entertaining. You can succeed if that is your goal, sure, but I don't think you could make anything really profound without having a purpose. Even an unconscious purpose works, I think. Maybe not as well though.

    And that isn't the kind of purpose I'm talking about. I'm not talking about a moral like "Honesty is the best policy" or something. I'm talking about the constant struggle between nature and technology in the Lord of the Ring. I'm talking about the hubris of the Greek heroes that leads to their downfall. I'm talking about the independence of Jane Eyre that lets her live happily with Rochester instead of unhappily in India with St. John. I'm talking about the inevitable decay of liberty and justice seen in 1984 and Animal Farm. These things weren't accidents. They were purposeful, calculated messages sent to the readers with the force of a nuclear weapon.

    You shouldn't force a purpose or moral. It should be the underlying aspect of every single sentence you write. It's the point of the writing: it should flow seamlessly within the peace and leave the reader with the correct impression without having to say it right out. Stories with a forced moral are those where the author read through afterwards and went "Hey, this should have a lesson!" and they implant a point surgically. Nope, the purpose should be the beginning and end of the work.

    You can write stories for fun, your stories can have characters that run amok, you can just write the story where a thief robs a bank and there's no point to it...but it's not going to be great writing. Such styles of writing are good for fun and for practice, heck, maybe even for getting published. It's going to be entertaining, but probably in the end it won't be much more than that. And, honestly, I rarely find such stories to be entertaining anyway.
     
  24. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    I seriously doubt Tolkien had the "struggle of nature and technology" in mind when he wrote every sentence in the LOTR (and it's prequels). He was far more interested in the milieu, in Middle-Earth and it's culture.
    Once again, I disagree. Stories can be great without being a commentary on human nature, society or the universe. Take, for example, "The Gods Themselves" by Asimov. It's a masterpiece of a novel and it's based mostly around characters and their interactions with each other. There is no massive anvil dropped with the words "Communism is evil" written on it (like on Animal Farm). The story exists just to be itself, not to push your political or philosophical views on people.

    I can see your point, but you put too much emphasis on it. The 'point' of the story should not get ahead of the actual story. The story is the most important part of the story, not the moral, lesson or point.

    Also, subjectivity prevents a moral from being universal (what can I say? I like post modernism). Let's say the moral you found in "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" was that humans overstimate their humanity (by killing equally sentient beings). And I say the moral was the conflict between the self and perception (poor Richard never knew what he was). Neither of those are entirely wrong, but you could make a hundred allegories of any kind for any part of any story and it wouldn't be wrong.
     
  25. Noodleguy
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    Noodleguy Senior Member

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    Denying that Tolkien masterfully used themes and symbolism to convey a message...don't even know what to say. Yes, he did a lot of it just for the heck of it. Most of the mythopea he did, for instance. And I'm sure it wasn't necessary for him to create a language! But that's not to say that he didn't also have messages that he wanted to convey in his writing. The Shire is the old England he grew up in, ideal and rural. Then the World Wars came and, in his view, ruined it. That's the message of his work. Just because there's more to it doesn't mean that there isn't a message. And while I am sure he didn't have it in mind in every sentence, I think it was close to it. Just think of the themes...the Last March of the Ents, for instance? And besides, that is far from the only purpose of LOTR, there are several other points he makes...but it doesn't matter. Trees for the forest, sir, trees for the forest.

    You obviously missed the point of Animal Farm *sigh* Orwell was a socialist, the point of Animal Farm was that Totalitarianism is both evil and the logical continuation of propaganda and rotten, corrupted political systems. Not to mention that, in fact, it was more of an allegory for the evolution of the Soviet Union than anything else at all.

    You've gotten caught up in my specific instances and missed the broader point. Don't look at the trees, look at the forest...

    Ten seconds on Google and Wikipedia tells me otherwise. I never read the book, but it clearly has distinct themes and it has a point. Not to mention that I DO know the Foundation series and to argue that those aren't making political points...ha!

    Au contraire. A story that exists in and of itself will never be as compelling or important as any other. It just won't. I'm siding with George Orwell's "Politics of the English Language" and Carl Becker's "The Art of Writing." You could probably just read those and know every point I can make, honestly.

    Perhaps this stems from the fact that I started out first and foremost as a political writer, in several settings, and while my writing has changed to fantasy and science fiction I doubt that it is any less political. Isn't that the point of all writing? To persuade someone of something? Otherwise it's just...pointless. Fun, maybe, but pointless.

    Why are you doing this backwards? The writer determines the meaning, not the reader. So, in other words, one of the readers is right and one is wrong. Or both are right, if possibly the writer had more than one intention. Unless the writer was someone like you. In that case there is no point, and they both are wrong.

    But androids dreaming of electric sheep is not great literature. Great literature will have a point, therefore only one or some number of interpretations will be correct. Your example...doesn't mean anything. I'm not saying you CAN'T have a book with no point to it. I'm saying a book with no point is pointless. By definition. Pointlessness can be entertaining, but it's not great.

    Now, honestly, I am somewhat of a hypocrite here. That's because most of the time I don't try to create great literature, or even decent literature. I just want to have fun with it, or try an idea out, or whatever. In those cases I have setting driven stories, character driven stories, and genre driven stories. But I have no delusions about their...pointlessness. Their point is just "Hey, look, this is kinda neat!" which isn't a great point. But they are fun.
     

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