Truthful Characterization.

The most alive characters in fiction, the most realistic, are true to themselves – They are not there to do your bidding as their writer and creator – They are not there to follow your orders or to show the world your feeling or thoughts or ideas – They are not there to obey you – They are there purely as themselves, reacting as they would react, thinking and living and breathing inside their world – not yours.

This is something I have learned. It might not be true for every writer (you all know your own style and what works for you), but it sure is true for me.

Some writers find character development tricky – how do they flesh them out? Personally, I don’t try to flesh them out, I let them flesh themselves out because then it’s the reflections of circumstances that’s doing it, not choice.

It’s too easy to try and control your characters. You created them to say something but you cannot force them to say it. They are not dolls or puppets, no matter how much you want them to be. Yes, you can treat them as such, force them to comply and have it all your way, but I guarantee that all your readers will see is awkwardness.

If you want something said or done, you must create the circumstances that will allow a character to develop into the sort of person who would want to say or do it.

*

It’s truth that brings a story alive and consistency that keeps it there.

That means giving them incentive that is true. That means setting them into the circumstances that will promote development of action or plot in a natural way and along understandable channels.

Basically, the most important thing to do is to make their world a believable place to be. Even fantasy and science fiction, complete with remarkable beings and outlandish creatures, need a backdrop based on rules and acceptances that make sense.

Make the plot as realistic as you can. It’s no good, for instance, creating a Bad Guy that everyone can walk away from. Why are the Good Guys trembling in their boots if the Bad Guy can be walked away from? Why the high drama if there’s a police station just around the corner? If there isn’t a police station, why not? If the Bad Guy can’t be walked away from, why not? It matters!

The whys and the how of such things build the world and the circumstances into which you bring your characters. Once released, they will bounce around inside those circumstances and generate natural reactions that will further the plot. They develop themselves, they grow naturally – and it’s a joy to watch.

Being too tight with your characters means not allowing them any leeway or freedom. If you do that, you won’t get spontaneity or excitement. You’ll end up with dry characters and forced dialogue. There will be no genuine connection between them, either, no feelings that live. Being too loose with your characters means you haven’t given them limitations or incentive inside their world and they’ll start free-roaming looking for a life. You’ll end up with no story, or one that’s so loose no one (including you) knows what it is.

The trick is, then, to be strict with your circumstances and settings, and allow your characters the full freedom to be who they are inside those settings. Of course they will search for ways out of their circumstances, which will probably become the background plot if not the story itself. It adds credibility.

It all sounds very complicated, I know, but it really isn’t. The most joyful characters are free.

Cheers!

😀

Allyson

13 thoughts on “Truthful Characterization.

  1. Nick

    I hate dealing with my characters when they want to wander outside the carefully organised path I’ve laid out for them, but I love that they make the story better for it.

    Reply
    1. A.D. Everard Post author

      Hi Nick. That’s what I found, too. The first time it happened, I didn’t know what was going on, but I ran with it (I figured I could rip it all out if it went bad). The result was amazing. I love it now when it happens and I’ve never yet been disappointed. Actually, I wish I could make it happen, but I’ve not yet managed that, it seems it has to be spontaneous.

      Cheers! 🙂

      Reply
  2. D. Emery Bunn

    I’ve found that I can actually do this for not just the characters, but the plot itself. I will start with the end in mind, and maybe a few big huge milestones along the way, and craft the entire story from there, impromptu and without outline. My characters and an almost-sixth-sense subconscious craft the rest.

    The results of it are always surprising to me, as I don’t really know what’s going to happen next. I was floored when the end of Nikolay had a seduction scene. At first blush I was like “this doesn’t make sense at all, I’m just fantasizing without cause!” Then I thought back on what I had written, and what type of person my main character was. Him being seduced by a girl wasn’t far-fetched, and in a lot of ways, it was an interesting, and unexpected, first conclusion to the overall novella arc. I think it works, but I’m still waiting for my beta reader reactions. We shall see…

    Reply
    1. A.D. Everard Post author

      😀 You sound like you write like I do! I always have the ending in sight first, then work up to that point. I don’t do outlines, either, but I will set up a series of milestones to aim for. They act as my guidelines. Then I let my characters get on with it and surprise me – and they always do. 😀

      I love it when a scene opens up unexpectedly and I always run with them, they are so worth it.

      My big seduction scene (in book 1) came at the halfway point – a whopping 30 pages of hands-on with not much detour in the middle – I can’t believe I nearly took it out [Shock!]. It turned out to be the pivot point to the story, the motivator that made the Good Guys sit up and go take on the Bad Guys.

      😀

      I look forward to hearing what your Beta reader thinks of your book – I reckon they’ll love it! 😀

      Cheers!

      Reply
      1. D. Emery Bunn

        Part of why it surprised me so much is because I am not a romance-type writer. Sex scenes? Creep me out, even if I understand their significance (or consummation of more than just physical union). And then I went and wrote a scene that stops just short of sex itself and picks up the morning after. One of my beta readers got impatient and read that first, and feedbacked that as a scene itself, it’s believable. I was like “SERIOUSLY!? SINCE WHEN COULD I WRITE SEDUCTION!?”

        Reply
        1. A.D. Everard Post author

          What a great response! Obviously it’s GOOD. 😀

          I’m not a romance writer, either, love stories are not my thing. But sex does have a place and I’ve never seen the sense in keeping sex out of sci-fi.

          My big sex scenes go the whole way. My motto is, if I’m going to write it, write it with everything I’ve got. I’m not saying pulling back is in anyway a bad thing, you’ve got to do what works. I’ve just seen too many sex scenes where the WRITER comes across as shy or jittery about it, so I made that commitment. If it’s in there, I’ll do it properly. Not all my sex scenes are exploited to the max, just the main ones. 😀

          Great topic! 😛

        2. A.D. Everard Post author

          Oops – I should point out that the huge sex scene is not just sweat and lust – there’s heaps of action and mental gymnastics going on (not just physical ones)… 30 pages sounds repetitious and it’s certainly not that!

          Heck with it, I think I’ve got my post for tomorrow. 😀

        3. D. Emery Bunn

          Glad I could help in my own, rather bizarre, way.

          Personally I have no actual sex experience, so I don’t feel comfortable writing about something so intimate that I don’t have the foggiest clue about in truth. That likely will change whenever I get married, but for now I’m going to stay away from the sex to keep it from writing wooden.

        4. A.D. Everard Post author

          That’s actually very wise. That’s where it’s so easy to slip up. If a writer writes beyond their reach, it shows, and if that work is published, it will haunt that writer forever.

          Cheers to you, and thanks for a great chat. 🙂

  3. Yuna

    Wow, i love you point, Allyson; stay with the circumstance, don’t let the characters lack of spontaneous and excitement from tightness and loose by overly freedom..ah looks like something to do in this real life 🙂

    Reply

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