Monday, October 11, 2010

Writing is Like a Box of Chocolates

I try to have an overall plan. Really I do. But when the characters start talking and acting out, well . . . I never know if I'm going to end up with a chewy caramel nougat or a vanilla creme.

For example. One character is supposed to be scary. Threatening. He's a Teddy Bear! I'm trying to toughen him up so he's more complex and can fulfill his threatening role. It's happening, but slowly.

What's the deal?

Why is it that even when we have defined roles for these characters - who, mind you, we created - they don't conform to our preset definitions for them?

Does it happen because we don't think far enough ahead about how two or more personalities will interact and self-define?

Do they say one tiny little thing in a different tone or perform one act we hadn't counted on that sets them down the road to rebellion before we're even aware?

Do they plot to take us down and write the story themselves?

Or is it our subconscious trying one way after another to make us see something isn't working as it should and this might be one way to fix it?

Or is it trying to show us what we planned isn't working at all and we should chunk it and rethink?

I don't know the answer. I wish I did.

What are your thoughts?

32 comments:

Joanne said...

It takes a while to really work out all the nuances of a character. When something isn't working, I think it's our subconscious asking us to give it more attention. P.S. I love the idea of a cute Teddy Bear being scary. Just the contrast with our Teddy Bear expectations and your story reality would draw me in!

Holly Ruggiero said...

I like the idea that our subconscious knows better than we do. It makes sense that it is taking everything in while consciously we are only working on one scene.

Clarissa Draper said...

Although I like to say my stories are plot driven, my characters often have other ideas. They decide what they want and they go there. I just follow along.

CD

Claudia said...

Hi Carol,
When I write my stories, I have an idea of who my characters are and how they behave. However, when I go through the editing process, that's a different ball game. My characters go through metamorphosis. ;) In this stage, I let the characters speak to me in a subtle way. I'm more careful because I still want the story to work, to be tight.

Lydia Kang said...

I have the same exact problem. An uncle in my WIP who's supposed to be tough and rough and mean, and he's a teddy bear, and my crit partners have told me there's nothing menacing about him at all.
Gah!
Part of my problem is that the teddy bear in him is internal and kind of hidden, and I drew it out too much, too early.
Back to the drawing board!

Helen Ginger said...

I think it's often best just to let the character do what they want to do. See what happens. It may work, which is great. It may not, which means you have to consider whether you'll go back and change something in the beginning that will set him/her off in the direction you want. (Or not.)

Carol Kilgore said...

Joanne - Menacing Teddy Bear. Might be something to that. Thanks.

Holly - I think it sees all, knows all.

Clarissa - I have a plot! Somewhere.

Claudia - I tend to learn more about my characters as they maneuver me...I mean as I write them. Sigh.

Lydia - My Teddy Bear was supposed to come on the scene as a scary dude. Instead he's all smiles and fun. I'm like, "Who are you?"

Carol Kilgore said...

Helen - You make it sound SO easy.

Colette said...

Maybe characters, like people, just need to grow and evolve. None of us are the same as we were last year, are we?

Laura Eno said...

Excellent questions...let me know when you find the answers. :)
I like to let my characters tell me who they are, which is often better than what I had planned for them. I suppose it's my muse hitting me upside the head for not paying attention.

Talli Roland said...

I have tried and tried to pin down my characters before I start writing, but somehow the only way they seem to evolve is through the writing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I usually nail them down before I begin, but little things appear later as i write.
Evil Teddy? Like the one in Toy Story III?

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I've found threatening the dull characters with deletion is usually what it takes for their true colours to emerge. But sometimes, those characters I thought were nasty turn out to be anything but. I just write the gosh-darned thing and then go back and try to make sense of it. Sometimes, this works. Not always.

Hannah Kincade said...

I think it's our subconscious. In the beginning of my wip one character did not exist and then I was writing a scene and this guy walked in and now he's important. I did not plan it but I love him now. It all works out for the best in the end and if it doesn't, that's what rewrites are for!

Carol Kilgore said...

Colette - This guy is evolving a little, but he's nowhere near where I'd planned.

Laura - One of mine in this WIP is much better than I'd planned. That is always such a joy when it occurs.

Talli - That's when I learn the most, too, no matter how much pre-planning I have or haven't done.

Alex - I'm jealous :)
He needs to be Evil Teddy, but he's just Sweet Teddy right now. And he doesn't want to play my way.

Elspeth - That's what I did with this one. The making sense of it isn't fun.

Hannah - This one is THE Rewrite From Hell. It's turned into my own horror story.

Hart Johnson said...

I tend to think if we put TOO much planning into it, then they act sort of canned. They really should be willing to fullfil their roles though, or they will need to be replaced, eh? Good luck!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Sometimes I really have a handle on my characters and other times I really don't. My last hero was so different from what i usually write. (He was kind of scary)
It took a lot for me to tone him down when I was editing. He was so bitter!
Where did that come from? It's very weird but kind of cool too. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

Hart - I think I'm much closer to finding the happy medium for how much I need to know about my characters before I begin. I hope so, anyway :)

Jennifer - In this project, I thought someone else was going to be the hero. Turns out, I was wrong about that. This manuscript is totally different from anything else I've ever done.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’ve had this very problem so many times. I used to think they plotted to take us down and write the story themselves, but now I’m thinking it’s probably a little bit of everything you listed.

Patti Lacy said...

I believe every writer has to find his or her way to create. If I plot too much, they're stilted. Of course, I don't think I've ever plotted on characters too much. I just kinda "see" them in my mind and know them. If a crit partner doesn't like certain things about 'em, they kinda get a mind job.

Great post!
Patti

The Words Crafter said...

One way to look at it: if your characters are acting out and going off track, it means they're alive, not just some 2-D blurbs on a piece of paper (or computer screen). They're ALIVE!

Carol Kilgore said...

Jane - Nothing is easy, right?

Patti - Some characters come to me that way. Not all. Obviously :)

Words Crafter - I like that outlook!

Arlee Bird said...

Maybe it's like in real life. I've met people who I started out disliking a great deal and found they were very nice people and it's worked the other way as well. Real people can also usually be counted on to behave a certain way, but they can have moods that show a different side.

Lee
Tossing It Out

VR Barkowski said...

Sometimes it's frustrating not to be able to control my characters, but in the end, they know better than I.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

I ran into a similar problem in my first draft. The character's voices weren't distinct and the villain was too nice. Before taking on the second re-write, I outlined the entire MS. This process helped me fill plot holes and I got to know my characters better. Although I haven't finished the first chapter of my WIP, I can already tell my characters are more interesting than they were before. Perhaps you may consider writing a small bio on your villain to draw out the traits that make him terrible.

Linda Kage said...

I like the subconsicous idea. Something in the story is trying to tell you things need readjusted.

Or maybe it's just a cose of the characters are so strong-minded they want to be what THEY WANT TO BE. Those darn, stubborn characters acting up again...what're you gonna do?!

Carol Kilgore said...

Arlee - I can play with the mood thing. Thanks :)

VR - Usually I feel that way, too. But there are some, like this guy....

Andrea - I like to think mine become better the more I work on them.

Linda - Exactly!

Elle Strauss said...

Yes, my characters often change personalities as I write. I think they're one way when I start off, and as I go, they totally turn into something else. Usually much better for the story.

RaShelle said...

Hi Carol - It's for this reason I try to do a really good character chart before I start writing. Sometimes, though, this can happen. When it does, I show my characters who's boss. LOL. We are the creators, after all. Don't let them push you around. =D

Carol Kilgore said...

Elle - I hope this one will be better for the story. He's growing toward who I thought he was, but he won't ever be there. His other traits are too ingrained in the story now.

RaShelle - Good for you! I'm definitely planning to know my next set of characters much better.

kimberlyloomis said...

I love the idea that it's our subconscious trying to get us to work things out. I'm kind of battling that out with a character of mine and trying to assert if my subconscious is right or if my reshaping as a result of it is. *sigh* The dialogue and interactions with other characters is also something I agree with. Although, truth be told, I have no idea if that's because I have a problem with keeping character consistency in new interactions or if that's just the way the character is.

Carol Kilgore said...

Sometimes we learn by doing and figuring out things for ourselves. Keep going. You'll know when it works.