Groundwork – If you don’t know your characters, no one else will either.

It really helps. If you know your characters well (and I mean REALLY well), writing from their point of view becomes exceedingly easy – If you are writing a story and you hit a scene that leaves you, as a writer, stumbling over how the character might respond, it means you don’t know that character well enough, and THAT means you’re not allowing your readers to know that character well enough to care.

Writing from deep within their point of view is what makes a character come alive, particularly when you are expressing their innermost thoughts, beliefs and acceptances in a familiar and easy style that is more a backdrop than a statement. Who they are shows in their manner, their reactions, their dialogue and stance, and it is all there for the writer if they truly know their characters.

It cannot be hit or miss. You have to know. If you want consistency, you have to make it work, meaning that it has to be there in the first place for you to draw on, or all you’re doing is guessing. Guessing might sound easier to do, but you are going to end up with a bland character (or a bunch of them) or, worse, one that contradicts him/herself.

Not so long ago, I read a book that had two main characters basically ripping each other’s clothes off all the time. The sex was very well described, although the relationship was shallow and the plot was very lightweight with the supposed storyline taking care of itself with no interaction from the characters (who were too busy screwing).

*

This was all well and fine – some people don’t want much of a plot – but towards the end of the book, the female lead expressed the thought (seriously) that she was not much interested in sex. Excuse me? The entire book just proved otherwise – a major contradiction. It was a bit late in the story for the writer to introduce the idea that the character was “above all that”.

Whatever the writer was trying to say, it clashed with what she had shown. Whenever a clash like that happens, the story is lost, the writer is suddenly visible and all the magic instantly disappears. Had she gotten to know her characters properly in the first place, she would never have had her female lead say or think such a thing. Or she would have given a relationship to the bedroom-rompers instead of portraying their liaison as lust out of control (nothing wrong with lust out of control – just don’t pretend that either one of them is not interested in sex).

The solution is to spend time with your characters. Scribble lots of notes, write scenes that might never go into the book, throw the characters in with other characters and see how they interact, and just plain get to know their nature as it evolves.

It is an ongoing process. For me, it’s all about reactions. I pay a lot of attention to the way a character wants to go. It’s a subconscious prod, their “reaction” is more likely to be correct for that character and I have learned now that if I go against the grain, it will come back to bite me because somewhere in that wrong move lies a contradiction.

So it’s not your characters or my characters running wild, it’s direction from the subconscious mind showing what works within the scope so far given to that character. If you know that, you can use that.

Okay, so back to that situation when you don’t know how your character will respond… Take time out, forget all other characters and just walk with that one for awhile. Listen to his or her thoughts, get into the mood of the moment and walk with them up to and into that scene. If their “natural” reaction is not the one the plot demands, you can always use another character who would more likely react the right way, or work some twists in that will change the way the character responds.

It’s all cause and effect. It can be done. It’s one of the challenges of writing a story and making it all sit right, and it’s a fantastic feeling when you achieve your goal and make it work.

As an example of working a change, from my own crowd of individuals, Raoul is pretty laid back main character. He’s not a fighter. He doesn’t take risks. He’s very much a live-and-let-live kind of guy. But after Jackie (his partner) was seriously and deliberately injured, it was Raoul at the firing range doing the bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam annihilation run while everyone else was practicing their double taps and triple shots.

I gave him reason to be angry and cause to be deadly. And, boy, it worked.

Cheers all. Happy writing!

😀

Allyson

10 thoughts on “Groundwork – If you don’t know your characters, no one else will either.

    1. A.D. Everard Post author

      Hi Yuna!

      Jackie has been with me a long time. She was one of the originals when the story was first conceived all those years ago. What I wanted with her was someone down-to-earth and intelligent who could also defend herself with a good level of professionalism. In order to give her that, I figured some professional training would have come from somewhere, and it was then natural to make her an ex-soldier or an ex-cop.

      She’s always been a favourite with me. I’m glad you like her. 😀

      Reply
  1. writingsprint

    I especially love your advice about writing scenes that will never make it into a story, just to get to know the character’s reactions. Have you ever planned a direction that you wanted the story to go in, then realized that there’s no way the character would do it?

    Reply
    1. A.D. Everard Post author

      Yes. The big one for me was when I introduced Sevi into The Khekarian Threat. That story had stood without her for many years through various rewrites as I found my way. I knew all the characters very well, but when she came in, she disrupted everything and purely because of her dedication in watching Sturn’s back.

      I wanted her to show what she was capable of doing and planned for some trouble in Stephen’s team that would trigger her stepping in, but every time I wrote something in, she ended up taking out everybody – the whole team got slaughtered. Not because of lack of control, quite the opposite. She just knew that if one couldn’t be trusted, none could be trusted, and she dealt with it before it got to be a problem.

      It was frustrating because I knew what she could do and I really wanted readers to see what she could do, too. She flat out refused to restrict her response – and she turned out to be right. Had I written what I wanted to, she would have shown up in poor light professionally.

      I did find my way around the problem and ended up adding two chapters, bringing in a place that had never been and a bunch of people who had never been intended. When I finished the book and read back through, I was stunned to find that that place and that event was one of the highlights of the entire story. And she got to strut her stuff. 😀

      That’s why I really trust my characters when they pull away from what I am trying to make them do. Sevi made it very hard for me (the final rewrite with her in it took 15 months), but she made me deal with it and I ended up with better material for it.

      Heck, I should make this a post. Cheers!

      😀

      Reply
      1. writingsprint

        IIIIIIIIIII like it! That’s the best. Letting go and going with your characters is hard — it’s “losing control” of the story — but it can take you to amazing places.

        Reply
        1. A.D. Everard Post author

          That’s it exactly! 😀

          I think I was lucky the first time it happened because, first, I went with it and, second, I got so much out of it. A character who was supposed to be nothing but a background character – a shopkeeper – went off at a tangent, started “seeing” stuff psychically in my main character. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I thought I’d follow it for a little while and rip it all out later if it didn’t go anywhere (at that point it wasn’t much of a story anyway).

          That character was Morragt. Thanks to him, I ended up with the Chiddran, the Chiddran/Khekarian war, Sturn becoming royalty, Aleisha becoming a psychic and exploded my one book into a series.

          So “amazing places” is exactly right! That’s why I like it when a character goes his or her own way. The interesting thing is, I can’t make it happen, but when it does, I love it. I have never yet been disappointed, and I’ve never yet had to rip anything out.

          😀

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