Posted in Blog Post Museum

Dangers of Breaking Relationships With Your Characters

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

In my previous post, The Importance of Building a Relationship with Your Character, I described a little bit about what it was like to be in a strong and working relationship with your characters. But, just like relationships with living people, these connections to your creations have to be maintained through communication and respect. There is such a thing as an Author overstepping their bounds into a character’s life in ways that may lead to stunting the development of that character… or halting it all together.

Learn to Let Go

It didn’t take me very long before I learned an important lesson in writing: The Author’s biggest mistake is ever thinking they are in control of anything during the writing process. As I mentioned in a previous post, writing is an art most thoroughly experienced when your characters are free to do as they please… not as it pleases you. You’re simply there to record the happenings.

markedtsuprofilebigHowever, all too often we try to force characters to conform to our plots and plans, unaware of the fact that by doing this, we aren’t allowing the characters the freedom to grow and develop as they naturally would. This also stresses any sort of relationship you might have with your character — after all, no one likes an overbearing control freak for a friend, family member or significant other. Your characters feel the same way.

How many times have you read a story or watched a movie where the characters felt completely flat and bland… as if their only purpose was to recite lines and act out their parts in the story? Or how about characters that we have watched grow and develop over the length of a story suddenly do something completely out of character just to satisfy the forward motion of the plot?

Readers can sense when a character’s integrity and spirit has been bent in order to further the intentions of the Author. It comes off as something unnatural and can be the starting point for the decline of the character’s development as a whole. Once an Author gets on the wrong course, it is sometimes hard to get the story back to where they need it to be. The character becomes nothing more than a forced puppet jumping from one plot point to the next.

It’s also the fastest way to destroy a hard-earned relationship with your character.

Consequences: Characters in Revolt!

About 75% of the time, if I find myself writing myself into a corner in such a way, my characters will completely rebel on me. They become distant, difficult to read and judge… sometimes impossible for me to write. I complain that I can’t “feel” their intentions and responses to the situations I introduce them into. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s simply their way of letting me know that I’ve gone off course… I’ve overstepped my boundaries… and they no longer want to play the game.

Dragon__s_ChampionEvery now and then I do get a character that’s placid enough to allow me to keep stumbling over myself in the wrong direction without pitching a fit. But very soon, I find myself becoming less and less enthralled with the process of writing… because it’s terribly boring and tedious to have to force one scene after another from my fingers on to the screen. I take a step back from the situation and try to find where I’ve gone wrong.

It’s far easier to connect… listen… understand… and allow your characters to do as they naturally would. You’ll find that the story begins to write itself and your relationship with those characters will begin to strengthen as you learn more about them. Writing isn’t wooden. It’s flowing and alive.

Just like your characters.

Ways to Break Your Relationship With Your Characters

Here’s a list of the ways that writers can destroy their hard-formed relationships with your characters. These are not the only ways, I’m sure. Feel free to list your own discoveries:

  1. Forcing a character to do something that’s not in-character to do
  2. Turning a character into a plot device
  3. Not giving a character enough breathing space for natural development
  4. Ignoring tangents that can lead to development for your character (especially when they seem to desire it)
  5. Forcing your characters into an unnatural or unrealistic love relationship (this becomes an EPIC FAIL to the readers, trust me!)
  6. Changing your character for any reason outside of natural character development processes (ie. reader feedback/demands, fads, fashions, net trends)
  7. Developing characters simply to embody some sort of intangible symbolic meaning (ie. “This character represents my feelings on XYZ issue.” “This character symbolizes the virtue of truth and justice in my world.”). These sort of characters work in certain kinds of stories… but when you become so worried about what the character stands for rather than who the character is, you’re going to find yourself with a boring and flat character on your hands.

Just remember my writer’s creed: The character will tell the Author what they need to know when the time is right. The character always knows best.

Author:

I'm a technical writer by day, gaming gal by night. I have a wide array of gaming interests, though I most often blog about MMOs, RPGs, and Nintendo fanstuffs. Like what you just read? Check out my Webcomic and Fantasy Fiction projects! https://aywren.com/fantasy-fiction-webcomics/

3 thoughts on “Dangers of Breaking Relationships With Your Characters

  1. Re 7: I’d argue that those sorts of characters shouldn’t exist, period. Even message fiction doesn’t work too well when the main character is Personification of Writer’s Philosophy alone, and honestly, I think message fiction itself is something that should only be done by experts. It’s not going to have near the impact that the books that established message fiction as a genre did, due to the saturation of the market in this day and age.

    Love the article itself! This issue is near and dear to my heart; one of the things that provided the impetus behind my own blog was a conversation I had with one of my classmates in creative writing, when we were comparing stories. Hers was a very message-fiction piece featuring a character who existed only to illustrate The Problem (I don’t think the poor girl even had a name); mine was a story about getting over writer’s block by trusting a character to get herself out of trouble. Neither of us understood the other’s story; I couldn’t fathom the point of reading something that existed solely to teach a lesson, and she couldn’t comprehend characters choosing their own paths.

    (Speaking of which, 8. Becoming so worried about a character that you bend the story to keep her from getting hurt, or sometimes even to prevent the risk of getting hurt. I know quite a few who loathe that.)

    So thanks for bringing this up!

    Ravyn’s last blog post..Announcing Project Characterization

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  2. Hmmm . . . I’m not sure where I stand on 7., Ravyn.

    Writing a character for the sole purpose of teaching a lesson is certainly ridiculous, but I am of the opinion that every bad idea has a grain of truth in it (the ‘hook’, shall we say, that bad guys use to catch you in the bad thing.)

    There’s nothing wrong with fables, in my opinion, and they are symbolic of mountains of things. I suppose that’s a story, though, not exactly characters . . . and nursery rhymes are full of symbols–actually that’s all they are.

    Sometimes when I write, I find similarities between my characters and real-life problems, and I see that their quest could be used as a sort of symbol for people with that real-life problem. Charles Dickens supposedly brought attention to the abuse done to children back then. As you can probably tell, I don’t believe in ‘just fiction.’ There’s no such thing. But that’s just me–AHEM-not-expert-but-VERY-opinionated!!!

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing things the way you think they SHOULD be, as long as it’s realistic. You’re characters have to stand for SOMETHING, don’t they? I think I agree with Aywren on this one, it’s when you focus too much on what they stand for and not on them (and I would add HOW they stand for it by their own actions, not the ones you make them do.)

    And, maybe the problem is because people don’t let those types of characters grow. If you let them grow and overcome their problems, and especially if you as a person are trying to get over them, then you’ve written a map that others may follow to conquer the same problem, and you might even, as you write, discover some of the steps you missed before, because you’ve changed the perspective by writing it in a story. It’s more like a journal, but oh well. Maybe it’s bad to do that. The biggest problem is that people are going to find symbols to tie your characters to, whether you like it or not. My only question is, how do I turn that to my advantage, or how do I protect myself from the effects of that?

    Sorry, wrote a book there <.< I’ve really enjoyed this characterization series of posts, Aywren! ^.^ It’s given me a lot to think about.

    *shivers at 2.* Now, I DO sometimes have to search around for characters to fill in spaces, like if I’m going to a police station, I need a cop, and I like characters to be interesting (they’re all cool people in reality, the story’s just not about them yet.) But, it’s not like I always just plop one out of a hat and then forget about them. They usually become quite strong characters, too, amazingly, because THEY told me that being a cop was THEIR job. I didn’t give it to them . . . or something *is confused.* Then they get names, and I’m had . . .

    *Actually, shivers at 1-6. (7. is still being digested . . .)* Character slavery!!! PROTEST! PROTEST!

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  3. Re Ravyn:

    I think it’s a highly specific form of story that uses them, but it is possible.
    Well… I hope it’s possible.

    I’m currently world- and character-building for a story where the majority of the main characters are based around a single trait. Perhaps it’s my insistence on being contrary, maybe I’m hoping that by approaching things from the opposite direction I’ll manage to make it work, but… they pretty much embody 7.

    I seem to be trying to talk myself out of it. Oh dear…

    But, yeah. It’s been really tricky. While they have to be one-dimensional in some respects, it’s possible to build on them – a creature that represents logic collects art and statuary to try and understand humanity in a static form, and plans to the point of impracticality.

    I guess – I hope – that 3 is the golden crime. Given space to stretch, even the most basic characters can twist themselves into something realistic. After all, how many figments sprung fully formed from the first imagining?

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