Friday, February 26, 2010

On Character

There was an interesting post I read on Nathan Bransford's blog that ended with "How do you balance story while being true to a character?"

I think this is a question worthy of discussion. The context was a post concerning where characters take you over the course of the writing process. Sometimes we writers plunge into a story certain that we know where it is going. We have the outline either physically laid out or firmly fixed in our minds. We set pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard and suddenly...

The characters take on a life of their own. This is a good thing, in part. When characters steal the story, they come alive. When the writer surrenders control to the creative, we learn more about the character than we could otherwise and they shed the the labels confining their personality. Complex characters can make a story.

That said, when the characters hijack the plot, they take the writer through terrain --internal to their world or psyche--we-the-writers haven't yet mapped. The need for description of things and places and of reactions to things and places, as well as to people and situations, is one big yarn ball that begins to unravel. Then, suddenly, you have a different story. Maybe, there is more than one story wound in the piece you were writing. So balancing the two can become a lot more difficult, because "the real story" (or stories) have to be discerned. Then, they need to be separated, embellished, and the "junk" from the original story needs to be purged. or, perhaps, altered to fit the current plot.

The tweaking can go on and on. When you have a stubborn character and a stubborn writer... well, I think that could make balance more elusive.

It is getting easier for me, the closer I stick to characters' perspective. I can't derail from where "they" need to take me if I can't step out of their head. But sometimes, interspersed in the changes are characters who are more hesitant to let me in. Then I stall, begin again at the start, and revise my way through hoping that the character i need to pop out, does so. Balance of characters, description, etc lets me balance plot and character. However, I feel that the true balance of the two is something I am currently working on.



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